Il Natale in Italia.
To say 'Merry Christmas' in Italian, you say 'Buon Natale'. It actually means 'Good Christmas.'
Very often, you will see and hear 'Buone Feste.' This means 'Have good festivities.'
Father Christmas is Babbo Natale.
In Italy, some children write their Christmas letters to Babbo Natale and others write to The Baby Jesus (Gesù Bambino).
If you are writing to Father Christmas, your letter should begin: Caro Babbo Natale,.......
If you write to The Baby Jesus your letter should begin:
Caro Gesù Bambino,.......
This means that on Christmas Day, some Italian children find presents left by Father Christmas, and others find gifts that have been left by Gesù Bambino.
It all depends upon who they wrote to!
When an Italian baby is born around Christmas time, it is common to name the child Natale, meaning Christmas,
or a name linked to Christmas: Natalia, Natalina.
The word Natale is about 'being born.' The English words 'nativity' and 'natal' come from Natale. The Nativity refers to the birth of The Baby Jesus.
The largest Christmas tree in the world can be seen every year in the Italian town of Gubbio.
It is the illuminated shape of a Christmas tree, arranged on a mountain slope. It is 650 metres long and 350 metres wide. Eight and a half kilometres of electric cable are used to light up the shape.
It can be seen from very far away. A team of workers called 'Gli Alberaioli' set up the famous tree every Christmas.
L'albero di Natale
The Christmas tree of Gubbio is lit up on 7 December, just in time for the important Italian celebration of
La Festa Dell' Immacolata on 8 December. This date is a celebration in honour of the The Virgin Mary.
It is the date when most Italian families begin to put up their Christmas trees and decorations and is considered to be the start of the festivities.
The Christmas tree has become the symbol of the town of Gubbio. (Photo below.)
(Visit the official Gubbio Christmas tree website at: www.alberodigubbio.com )
A Note: To read a famous story about a wolf in the town of Gubbio, click HERE.
Saint Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of Italy.
He is called San Francesco d' Assisi.
He was the person who started the tradition of celebrating Christmas with a crib (un presepe).
How did Saint Francis begin this tradition?
On the night of Christmas Eve, in 1223, in a forest by the town of Greccio, Francis and his companions prepared a stable with straw and brought a donkey and an ox to the scene.
Everyone acted as if they were in the Bethlehem stable with the new born Baby Jesus.
The event was so wonderful that it was repeated the following Christmas. Eventually, it became the tradition to create a Nativity Scene every Christmas and in countries all over the world!
In La Basilica di San Francesco (the main cathedral of Assisi, the home-town of Francis) there is a permanent Christmas crib on display, all year round. It is in recognition of the tradition that he started.
To read more about Saint Francis, click HERE.
Throughout December until the 6 January, every Italian church displays a beautiful Christmas crib.
In addition, there are open-air cribs to be found in streets and gardens. They are always very impressive.
In many areas of Italy, the towns re-create live Nativity scenes in the style of Saint Francis.
These are called 'presepi viventi', meaning 'living cribs'.
The people dress up as if they were living in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. There are processions and enacted scenes.
There is a saying in Italy -
Un Natale senza presepe non è un Natale.
Christmas without a crib is not Christmas.
Some more Christmas words -
la stella the star
I Re Magi The Three Kings
Maria e Giuseppe Mary and Joseph
l'asino the donkey
Gesù Bambino Baby Jesus
i pastori the shepherds
l'angelo the angel
l' albero di Natale the Christmas tree
il regalo di Natale the Christmas present
la calza di Natale the Christmas stocking
il canto di Natale the Christmas carol
la neve the snow
il pupazzo di neve the snowman
On the 16 December begins a special period of nine days called La Novena. The word nove means 'nine.'
On each day, special prayers are said and
Christmas carols are sung.
Sometimes, children dress up as shepherds.
The nine-day period ends on Christmas Day.
On Christmas Eve, the Italian Christmas holiday is officially announced by the firing of a cannon from the very famous building called Il Castel Sant'Angelo, in Rome.
On Christmas Eve, la Vigilia di Natale, Italians eat a special evening meal called 'Il Cenone di Natale' and it is
a big family get-together.
In many parts of Italy, the tradition is that the Christmas Eve meal should include fish, but no meat.
In the south of Italy the Christmas Eve dinner is also known as La Festa dei Sette Pesci, meaning:
The Feast of the Seven Fish.
As the name suggests, there are seven types of fish and seafood prepared for the occasion.
Usually, the Christmas Eve meal takes place late at night in order to welcome the beginning of Christmas Day and the birth of The Baby Jesus - Gesù Bambino.
Most families attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Midnight mass is called La Messa del Gallo.
Christmas Day is Il Giorno di Natale.
On Christmas Day, children open the presents received from either The Baby Jesus or Father Christmas.
Many families attend church once again.
After Mass, in the early afternoon, they enjoy another big meal with the family.
At midday on Christmas Day, the Pope, Il Papa, speaks to thousands of people who gather in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican City. The speech is known as
il messaggio. At home, people watch the event on the television. It is very important.
Some of the most popular foods to eat in Italy on
Christmas Day are:
jumbo prawns - gamberoni
lobster - aragosta
lamb - agnello
suckling pig - maiale da latte
turkey - tacchino
Oranges and tangerines - arance e mandarini
are the most popular fruit. Oranges grow in Italy and their harvest is at the end of the year - just in time for Christmas.
Artichokes (carciofi) and fennel (finocchio) are popular vegetables as they are in season at this time of year.
Nuts (noci) and chocolate (cioccolato) are also popular at Christmas time.
Lots of Italian sparkling wine is drunk. This wine is called spumante. Prosecco is another Italian sparkling wine that is popular on special occasions.
A special bread-cake called panettone (above) is eaten and given as a gift when visiting friends and relatives throughout the Christmas period.
A finer and softer version of panettone is called Pandoro - this means 'golden bread.'
The 6 January is an important date. It celebrates the journey of The Three Kings and the day when they found
The Baby Jesus.
This celebration is called L' Epifania and Italian children love it because the Christmas witch (called La Befana) arrives during the night, flying on her broomstick.
Children hang up their stockings before they go to bed on the night of 5 January. La Befana enters the houses whilst everyone is asleep and fills the stockings with gifts.
But beware! Children are warned that La Befana fills naughty children's stockings with coal!
Nowadays, very often there will be some black sweets in the stocking - to look like coal!
It is said that the tradition of La Befana exists because when the Three Kings (I Re Magi) set out on their journey to find The Baby Jesus there was just one old woman who wanted to accompany them.
Nobody else wanted to go!
Unfortunately, the old woman changed her mind at the last moment and stayed at home instead.
She soon regretted her decision because The Three Kings found the Baby Jesus and gave Him their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
These gifts are called oro, incenso e mirra in Italian.
In order to apologise for her decision to stay at home, every year she brings gifts to children on the 6 January.
This is the date when the Kings visited the Baby Jesus and gave Him their gifts.
In Italian, New Year is called Capodanno.
The last day of the year is also known as
San Silvestro (Saint Sylvester's day.)
In Italy, you do not need a clock to tell you when it is midnight because there is always an enormous racket made by beeping car-horns and spumante corks popping.
To say Happy New Year you can either say Felice Anno Nuovo (Happy New Year) or Buon Anno (Good Year).
There is a famous Italian rhyme about Christmas and New Year: -
Natale con i tuoi,
Capodanno con chi vuoi.
Christmas with your family,
New Year with whoever you like.
On the first day of the new year, Italians believe that to wear the colour red (rosso) and to eat lentils (lenticchie) will bring good luck. Some people carry a handful of raw lentils in a tissue in their handbag or pocket.
In Italy, you only give Christmas cards by sending them to people who live away from home and
who you don't see very often.
The red house-plant known as poinsettia is very popular in Italian buildings and houses at Christmas.
Italians call it La Stella di Natale, meaning the
In January, in seaside areas, especially in the south of Italy, it is the tradition to collect sea-urchins to eat.
This creature is called 'un riccio di mare',
meaning 'a sea hedgehog.'
Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo!
Italian Christmas Zone