Posts Tagged ‘Epiphany’

Christmas in Italy – part 1

May 25, 2013

nativity sceneItaly enjoys a wide range of weather conditions during the Christmas season. In southern Italy Christmas is warm and sunny. In Rome, Christmas tends to be chilly and damp, almost Spring-like. In the mountain regions of northern Italy, Christmases are white with a lot of snow, ice, and cold temperatures.

Preparations for Christmas begin in December. People around Sicily also enjoy puppet shows with hand-carved puppets performing fairy tale stories and enacting legendary battle scenes. Storekeepers decorate their shops with lights and greenery. Families visit vibrant Christmas markets looking for presents, goodies, and new figures to add to the home manger scene. In the schools children put on plays, give recitals, and make decorations. People begin visiting friends and family bringing gifts, sharing good food, and visiting as many magnificent nativity displays as possible.

On December 6 many Italians celebrate the feast day of San Nicola (St. Nicholas). All along the Adriatic coast, children anxiously await the visit of the saint with his gifts and goodies he brings.

On December 13 the people of Sicily celebrate the feast day of Santa Lucia (St. Lucy). Tradition says that, on the eve of her day, Lucia travels the countryside accompanied by a donkey carrying baskets loaded with gifts for those she visits. Children leave their shoes on the doorstep along with food for the donkey. Lucia then fills the shoes with presents. On the morning of St. Lucia’s day, a child, usually the oldest daughter of the family, dresses up as Lucia and serves the family breakfast in bed.

The Christmas season really starts in Italy with Christmas Novena. This is a nine-day period of spiritual preparation ending Christmas Eve marked by attending church services.

Christmas Eve is spent with family and for making final preparations for Christmas day. They may enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas and the smells of the Christmas markets. Some Italians attend midnight Christmas Eve services at their local churches. In Cortina D’Apezzo, a town in northern Italy, families gather to watch the Alpine guides ski down the mountain carrying flaming torches.

Christmas Day arrives with the pealing of hundreds of church bells. The tradition of ringing church bells at Christmas is thought to have begun nearly 1,600 years ago by Bishop Paulinas of Nola. Families spend the day together exchanging gifts, playing games, telling stories, and feasting.

On December 26 a number of Italians celebrate St. Stephen’s Day. Once a day of religious devotion St Stephen’s Day is now spent relaxing or visiting friends and family.

As Christianity spread in Italy in times past the Christmas season was extended to January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. Cities and towns host Epiphany parades, and people sing songs honoring the three kings.

The following recipe is a favorite at Christmastime in Italy.

Almond Macaroons

1 can (8 ounces) almond paste, cut in pieces
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 egg whites
Pine nuts

Combine almond paste, sugar, and egg whites in a bowl and work with a spoon until smooth. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto cookie sheets lined with unglazed paper. Top with pine nuts. Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit about 12 minutes, or until delicately browned. Cool slightly, then remove cookies to racks to cool. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Christmas in Germany

February 14, 2012

English: Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) in...

Image via Wikipedia

Christmas celebrations in Germany start on November 11 with the celebration of St. Martin’s Day.  St. Martin’s Day remembers Martin, a Roman soldier, who, when riding through the countryside on a cold day, met a beggar asking for alms.  Martin had nothing on him to give but, noticing that the beggar was cold, took his cloak and cut it in two pieces and gave one piece to the beggar.  That night, after Christ appeared to him in a dream, Martin devoted his life to service to God.

On St. Martin’s Day children receive small gifts and eat treats, mainly currant buns.  They make homemade lanterns out of cardboard and transparent colored paper.  Some of these lanterns are quite intricate.  They hang the lanterns on long poles and march through town.  After the procession the people reenact the legend of St. Martin.

On November 30, St. Andrew’s Night is celebrated.  Young girls, before retiring for the night, may perform rituals to predict the identity of their future husbands.

About four weeks before Christmas, approximately December 1, many Germans observe the first Sunday of Advent.  Advent is a time of introspection and preparation looking forward to the birthday of the Christ child.  It is observed during the four Sundays before Christmas.

On St. Barbara’s Day, December 4, early budding cherry branches are cut and put in a warm place to bloom for Christmas.

Children look forward to December 6, St. Nicholas’s Day.  St. Nicholas visits all the children of Germany along with an assistant, either Black Peter or Krampus.  St. Nicholas arrives riding a white horse not a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer and is a stern man not jolly.  St. Nicholas gives gifts, candy, and treats to all the good children while Black Peter or Krampus gives switches to the naughty children.

On the 13th of December children gather and parade through town singing carols.  At the end of the parade route they perform a play about the Nativity.

On December 21, St. Thomas’s Day, the air is filled with the aroma of rich fruitcakes baking.  After all the baking is finished the people gather to dance the night away.

The big Christmas celebration begins on December 23, the Eve of the Eve.  It is said that the Virgin Mary and flights of angels fly overhead bringing advanced word of the Christ child’s birth.  On Christmas Eve, December 24, the Christmas baking is done, presents are wrapped and distributed, and the Christmas tree is decorated.  Children leave lists of gifts they wish to receive on the window sills for the Christ child, the Christmas gift giver in Germany.  The main dish for supper on December 24 is carp.  Brass bands serenade passersby with Christmas carols, and people attend midnight church services.  On Christmas day Catholic and Lutheran families attend church services.  Goose is the meal of choice, and families spend time with each other.

December 26 is St. Stephen’s Day, and December 28 is Holy Innocent’s Day.  Holy Innocent’s Day remembers the slaughter of the children of the Bethlehem area by King Herod.  On that day children pretend to swat adults with switches and are placated with small presents.

Traditional foods served on December 31, New Year’s Eve, are carp, a hot spiced punch called sylvesterabend served with pfannkuchen (doughnuts), and balbauschen, a fried cake stuffed with raisins and currants.  People also attend early evening church services.

Epiphany (January 6), also known as Twelfth Night or Festival of the Three Kings, is celebrated by eating Kings cakes.  Kings cakes are baked with a bean inside.  The one who finds the bean becomes king of the feast and is allowed to give ridiculous orders to those around him or her.

The final night of the Christmas season comes on January 13 and is known as Octave of Epiphany.  Groups of four boys each march around town singing “star songs.”  One boy carries a lighted star on a pole while the others are dressed as the three kings.  Some groups carry a crib filled with good things to leave with a needy family.

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