Origin of the Italian Christmas traditions
The Italian Christmas traditions are very fascinating due to the celebration originating from the birth of Jesus and the pagan celebration of Saturnalia. Saturnalia was the first holiday to be celebrated before the introduction of Christmas and it occurred from the 17th to the 24th, December. This ceremony originated from the high respect given to Saturn the Roman God whereby cattle meat was eaten as the exquisite Christmas food for the peasants of Rome. 25th December was then declared Christmas holiday in 4 A.D by the Roman church.
Due to the combination of these two holidays, the Italian Christmas traditions changed to celebrating Christmas for 3 weeks from 8th December during the Immaculate Conception to 6th January which is considered the Epiphany. During the first week, the children embrace the Italian Christmas traditions by moving from one house to another singing Christmas carols and reciting bible verses and in return, they are given money to buy candy.
One of the Italian Christmas traditions that is now fading is the descending of the Latium and Abruzzo playing bag pipes down a mountain which is known as the fifers or Piferari. This procedure is usually followed by the Presepio which is the indication of a house that has figures of Jesus Christ, Joseph, Mary, an ox and donkey made of clay, plaster or wood; this scene is the same as a Christmas tree in other Christmas traditions. The other interesting scene is the Ceppo which is a must decoration that fully embraces the Italian Christmas traditions; this a pyramid feature that is able to hold different Christmas components from candles and a star with ribbons on the top shelf, presents on the next shelf and ornaments all around it.
Instead of Santa Claus, the Italian Christmas traditions have an old witch called La Befana flying on her broom to deliver gifts to every household. According to the ancient Italian Christmas traditions, it was said that she is still looking for baby Jesus to give him her gift after the three wise men had passed over her place and refused to accompany them to see the new Messiah. The last thing in the celebrations is the eating of specific Christmas foods consisting of mainly fish after a day’s fast.