If you’re looking for snow and fir trees this Christmas, you’d do well to travel outside of Italy, for the larger cities of Italy are not especially Christmas-y by traditional standards. Of course, Italy sets its own standards and that includes the celebration of Christmas. In Italy, there might not be giant blow-up lawn ornaments, but the Italians show their love for the season by celebrating it for an entire month.
The Month of Celebrations
In Italy, the Christmas celebration starts on December 8. This makes it easy for visitors to enjoy the holiday both in Europe and again at home with authentic Italian gifts for friends and family. The holiday season begins on December 8, and officially ends of January 6, Epiphany, an important religious holiday in Christianity.
The month of celebration has been a tradition from time preceding Christianity however. The pagans made the month one of constant parties and revelry. Before adopting Christianity, the people celebrated Saturnalia, a winter solstice festival, and ended with the Roman New Year, the Calends. When Christianity took hold, the end of the season became Epiphany, the date the Wise Men were thought to have arrived to see Jesus bearing gifts. In ancient times, Romans began to exchange fits on this date as well.
The Italian Christmas Traditions
In Italy, you are likely to find decorated trees, but the true centerpiece of the Italian Christmas scene is the nativity scene. Since the mid thirteenth century, the Italians have created truly astounding manger scenes. Some credit St. Francis of Assisi with the creation of the manger – a publicity stunt of kind to draw the peasants into the holiday celebration.
Regardless of the source, the manger scene has lived on throughout time growing grander and more meaningful over the years. Nativity scenes are considered great art as well with one even on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The presepio is comprised of figures carved from wood and dressed in satin garments. Thirty gold-trimmed angels of the Magi are present in the scene as well.
The bagpipes, as played by the shepherd in the Christmas story, are still played in the streets and markets today. The zampognari, the shepherds who play the bagpipes, come down from the mountains to play their music in markets and squares. It is said the zampognari entertained the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, and today the shepherds make their own pilgrimage, stopping at every Madonna and nativity scene along the way.