Being a mostly Catholic country, with the Vatican located in Italy, Christmas is a big holiday. But it was not about the gifts. It was focused on celebrating the religious holiday.
Santa Claus, Babbo Natale, Saint Nick or La Befana?
San Nicola di Bari is supposed to be the inspiration for Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas that became the Christmas gift giver. In Italy, they call him Babbo Natale, Father Christmas and now Christmas has also become a major commercial holiday for presents.
Italians have always liked lighting up the town for the holidays and for Christmas they go all out. Each major street will be decorated by the local mercants. They are masters of lighting. Check out the lights on the Mercato Centrale in Florence, they are in the style of the Southern Italian way of decorating. I adore it.
Until recently, the major holiday when children got their gifts was for the Epiphany, January 6th, when the three kings brought their gifts to Jesus.
It is interesting how religious holidays switch over to commercial festivities and how many religious holidays used the dates of pagan holidays to celebrate.
For the Epifania which is the day the Befana is celebrated,children are usually given their Calza dalla Befana, a stocking filled with sweets and perhaps little gifts.
The Befana is still the holiday that is celebrated in towns with festivals for the kids and usually is a rather big event. In our village, she “flies” down into the main square to hand out candy to the kids. ( She is on a wire and harness and it is organized by the local fire department and the ambulance service.) Often there is a carousel for the kids or a ride of some sort.
La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
“The Befana comes at night, with her shoes broken.”
Befana is also a nickname for women, perhaps older and not so cute. Women have embraced it as a joke too and often dress up as “witches” some ugly and some pretty cute for the occassion.
Which holiday do I celebrate?
Since it is just my husband and myself, we keep it simple. We don’t need Christmas to give each other gifts. I do enjoy going to see the city lights. Florence has a wonderful series of lights in all the downtown streets. Just walking around, enjoying the lovely lights and the shop windows and a MUST is a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream.
The hot chocolate here, is almost like a pudding! Here is my recipe so you can try it at home for the holidays. Here is the recipe is from a local chocolate maker, Vestri.
As far as holidays go, Christmas is pretty big. They have a saying;
Natale con i tuoi….
Pasqua con chi vuoi.
“Christmas with your family, Easter with who ever you want.”
Enjoy your holidays where ever you are!