Recently my son had to do a school project where he chose a holiday that had some relevance to him, from anywhere around the globe. Being that his mother is of Sicilian descent, he chose Christmas in Italy. The most interesting thing to him was when he learned that Italian children do not expect a visit from Santa on Christmas day, instead that day is reserved for the celebration of Christ’s birth. During this season, Italian kids do something I find to be rather touching-they write a letter to their parents, thanking them for all they have. What a nice tradition to uphold-it gives children a chance, before the gift-giving and receiving (it’s coming) to reflect and pay homage to those who have given them the life they know.
A typical nativity scene
The nativity scene is important in Italy, as it is here, as are lights, but you won’t see all of the crazy lawn decorations and inflatables (think Clark Griswold) that we cherish here in America (at least in my town, including my house), and the spirit is not about amassing as many Christmas gifts as possible. On Christmas Eve, Christians in Italy, specifically southern Italy and Sicily, prefer to eat no meat. In fact, in my family, we carried a tradition over from our past generations called the “feast of seven fishes” where at least seven different kinds of fish dishes are served. In fact, my ancestors never ate meat on Fridays period. I do not know why or how this tradition started, but in general, we Italians see going meat-free as a form of fasting, which we do until Christmas day, which kicks off after midnight mass.
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Feast of the Seven Fishes at saveur.com
Back to the presents, legend has it that when the three kings were heading to see the baby Jesus, a good witch came around looking for the newborn. She never found him and still to this day she searches for him. On January 6th, the day before the Epiphany, Italian children are visited by La Befana who drops presents off for all of the good children, because although she hasn’t found Him, Jesus can be found in all children. With her broom she will sweep the floor near the children’s gifts, left in stockings, as she was known as a good housekeeper as well.
Hanging dolls depict La Befana, a lovable old witch
Tomorrow is January 6th, 3 Kings Day and the day of La Befana!