Posts Tagged ‘St. Lucia’s Day’

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 Sweden

February 26, 2012

The Christmas season in Sweden begins on December 13 with the observance of Luciadagen, St. Lucia’s Day.  In each house early in the morning a young girl, usually the eldest, puts on a white dress, ties a crimson sash around her waist, and dons a lingon, a crown made of leaves with several lighted candles set into the crown.  She then gets a tray, puts a coffee and cakes on it, and wakes up her parents giving them the coffee and cakes in bed.  Siblings also get into the celebration forming a procession that follows Lucia to the parents’ room.  Girls are dressed in long white dresses and carry a lighted candle.  Boys, known as Star Boys, also wear white along with a tall, peaked silver cap decorated with star and moon cutouts.

In some communities this tradition is extended to the town.  A young girl dressed as Lucia followed by girls in white dresses carrying lighted candles and Star Boys in their costumes walks through the parish singing Christmas carols.  One of the boys usually carries a pole with a laminated purple star attached.  Another group of boys known as baker boys carry cardamom-flavored buns called Lussekatter or ginger cookies known as Pepparkakor and hot coffee to give out as they visit the houses in the parish.

Preparations for Christmas day are also completed on Luciadagen.  Families work together scrubbing floors and scouring and polishing pots, pans, and kettles.  Lutfisken, a traditional holiday fish delicacy, is buried in beech ashes so it will be sweet and tender for the Christmas feast.  Holiday baking and making presents for friends and family members is also completed leaving the rest of the time between Luciadagen and Christmas day to enjoy with loved ones.

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