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Italian Made Fun & Simple


Starting with the first Sunday of Advent, which this year started on Nov. 27, and running through Epiphany on Jan. 6, Italy’s winter holiday season has numerous minor and major holidays peppered throughout the period.  The church officially prepares for the celebration of Christ’s birth on the first day of Advent. Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, (l’Immacolata Concezione) is the day that commercially the season gets fully under way and throughout Italy the whole country welcomes in the Christmas season, much like America’s day of Thanksgiving. However, it is also a major Catholic holy day and is a national Italian holiday, with all public offices and schools closed.

The second most popular day for welcoming in the Christmas season’s in Italy is the Feast of St. Nicholas (La Festa di San Nicola). In areas where he is venerated, it is Dec. 6 when age-old traditions are played out to honor him and ring in the season. The best-known is the eve of St. Nicholas Day, when children place their shoes in a by a fireplace (vicino il focolare), or under their bed (sotto il letto). The next morning the children find their shoes filled with little presents from  the great saint.

From the season’s onset to the last day of the season Jan. 6, the Epiphany (l’Epifania) other Christmas-related holidays take place Dec. 13, Festa di Santa Lucia; Dec. 24, La Vigilia di Natale; Dec.26, Festa di Santo Stefano; Dec. 28, Festa degl’Innocenti and Dec. 31, La Festa di San Silvestro or La Vigilia di Capo d’Anno. Some Italians still hold the tradition of the Festa del Candelora on Feb. 2 when they take down the presepio. Another day, though not a holiday per se, is Dec. 16, known as La Novena di Natale. Novena, Latin for the ordinal number, ninth, indicates the nine-day period prior to Christmas Day. Visits to the presepi by the zampognari to serenade il Bambino Gesu begin in full force on first novena day.

Let’s look at some ways to greet at this season:

Buon Natale: Merry Christmas

Buon Capo d’Anno or Buon Anno Nuovo: Happy New Year

Buone Feste: Happy Holidays

Vocabulary with religious significance:

I Re Magi: The Three Wise Men

La Sacra Famiglia: The Holy Family

Presepio or presepe: Nativity scene

I Pastori: The Shepherds

Special seasonal days:

Festa di Santa Lucia: Feast of St. Lucy

La Vigilia di Natale: Christmas Eve

La Festa di Santo Stefano: St. Stephan’s Day aka Boxer Day

La Vigilia di Capo d’Anno or Festa di San Silvestro: New Year’s Eve or St. Silvester Day

Festa degl’Innocenti: Feast of the Holy Innocents

Festa del Candelora: Candlemas

General seasonal terms:

Babbo Natale: Santa Claus or Father Christmas

Zampognari: Bagpipers

Pupazzodi neve: Snowman

L’Albero di Natale: Christmas Tree

Tradtional Foods:

Il cenone: The Christmas Eve Dinner

L’anquilla: Eel

Il polpo: Octopus

Il pesce:  Fish

Torrone: Traditional nougat candy

Il panettone: A traditional style raisin bread

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