Monday, December 15, 2008

Have you been Missing Christmas?

Sorry about that! I got caught up in all the Christmas prep around the Zoo and ran a little low on Steam! But I'm back and ready to move through Europe today! Tomorrow we are going to make a few stops in Africa and then it's off to Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Are you ready to move it on? (The Amazing Race has NOTHING on us!!)

Welcome to Italy! I am so excited about this stop!! A) Because I am the world's biggest pasta butt and B) because this is such a rich culture. Let's take a moment and review some history before we start exploring ok? This is the home of Rome - anciently remembered for being big on the mythic gods. Rome is also home of the largest empire in history and home to the Catholic Church and ancient Christianity. As a result when it is time to celebrate at this time of year you are surrounded by many rich and varied customs and traditions.

In a nod to the ancient pagan culture Saturnatalia (Winter Solstice) and Advent blend to create Buon Natale or Good Birthday - a combined celebration of winter and the birth of Christ. Piferari (fifers) march down fro the mountains to herald the season and kick of the celebrations. Eight days before Christmas children celebrate in their own way by participatin gin La Novena during which that travel through town and sing carols and recite Christmas poetry.

On Christmas Eve families visit Cribs (nativities) throughout thier communities much like we would tour lights and outdoor decorations. They also begin burning the Yule Log which will burn until New Year's Eve to clean the house of any bad luck or evil from the year before. It is legend that Mary would tour the homes where the Yule was burning and warm her newborn thus blessing the home when she left.
On Christmas Day families join in a huge banquet which features many fish and seafood dishes including capitone (roasted eel) or sausage stuffed pig leg served with lentil. For sweets one would have their choice of panettone (fruitcake), torrone (nougat)or panforte (gingerbread). And no Christmas banquet is complete without an assortment of nuts and honey. The nuts symbolize the fertility of the earth so eating the two together ensures one of a sweet and propserous New Year.

In Italy gifts are delivered by La Befana - a female Santa Claus. She is portrayed as a kind ugly witch which teaches the children that gifts can come from anywhere and anyone. Another tradition tied to gifts and giving is the Urn of Fate. A bag is loaded with wrapped boxes, some containing gifts and some empty. There is a box for everyone so a new meaning is given to "You get what you get and you don't throw a fit!" But one gift that is given to everyone no matter where or who is the Pope's Christmas blessing which is delivered from St. Peter's at noon on Christmas Day.

So Buon Natale! I hope you enjoyed this little visit to Italy with me. I think I'll pass on the eel though if you don't mind. See you later today for a quick stop over in Sweden!


jennifer said...

When my kids find out that Mom and Dad are really Santa, they'd totally buy into the Christmas Witch =)