Catholic traditions Christmas General Italy

La Befana – the 12th day of Christmas in Italy

Befana – Painting by James Lewicki, from “The Golden Book of Christmas Tales” 1956
[responsivevoice responsivevoice_button buttontext=” ” voice=”Italian Male”]La Befana vien di notte

con le scarpe tutte rotte

col cappello alla romana

viva viva la Befana![/responsivevoice]
The Befana comes at night

wearing old broken shoes

dressed in Roman (hat) style

long live la Befana!

The Feast of the Epiphany is celebrated January 6 with a national holiday in Italy, and the tradition of La Befana are a big part of Italian Christmas celebrations. Epiphany commemorates the 12th day of Christmas when the three Wise Men arrived at the manger bearing gifts for Baby Jesus. The traditional Christmas holiday season in Italy lasts through Epiphany.

The legend of Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) has existed in Italy mostly since the days of World War II.   However, there is even a more ancient (and popular) Italian Christmas tradition that has its origins traced back to the 13th century: the legend of “La Befana”

Deriving from the word Epiphany (Greek term meaning “manifestation” or “appearing”), the legend of “La Befana” is that of an old witch lady with a big red nose and slight hunch, dressed in a jacket of colorful patches. She is often pictured with a broom. 

Legend has it that on the 12th night of Christmas (January 5th) the 3 Wise Men, on their search for the baby Jesus, asked “La Befana” to join them in their quest.   She initially declined, stating she had too much housework to do.   She later changed her mind and went looking for the 3 Wise Men and the baby Jesus, but was unable to find them.  

Therefore, every year, on the night of January 5th, “La Befana”, will travel on her magic broom, to every house in Italy in search of the baby Jesus bringing gifts. Climbing down the chimneys, she brings candy (“caramele”) or fruit to the children that were good and black coal (“carbone”), onions or garlic to the children that were naughty.   The children will leave out their stockings, and even their shoes, hoping to awake on the morning of January 6th to some “caramele”.   Similar to the Santa Claus tradition, many of the children will write notes to “La Befana” and even leave out food and wine for her (sausages and broccoli in some parts of Italy).  

It is a tradition that is still strong in Italy with many stores selling stockings, mostly red, but sometimes even sand-colored, for the children to leave out for “La Befana”.   It is a fairy-tale story of the good witch / bad witch, depending on how you behaved during the past year.   After her arrival, there are many parties and Italians will celebrate going from house to house celebrating the bonds of family and friends

The holiday also marks the end of Christmas and New Year’s festivities in Italy, after which children go back to school, adults go back to work, and the Christmas decorations come down.

Italian phrase of the day
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Catholic traditions Christmas General Italy

St. Stephen’s Day in Italy

St. Stephen’s Day is celebrate on December 26 on the day after Christmas: St. Stephen was indeed an Apostle who was given the task of collecting donations for the poor. It used to be honoured with two days of holidays (the second, in August, was removed from the Roman Calendar in 1960). God worked many miracls through St Stephen because he was able to speak with wisdom and grace, which pushed many to become Jesus’ followers.

Along with Christmas Day, Santo Stefano is a national holiday in Italy. Italians use to spend the day with family, usually enjoying a day out: while many attractions, shops, and restaurants are usually close on December 25th, most of them are open on December 26. Some remain closed, including the Vatican Museums.

What people like to do is to visit to the Nativity scenes displayed in many Italian towns, like in Matera, where the biggest Nativity scene is set.

In Sicily, the living nativity close to Ragusa is so popular that attracts every year thousands of visitors.

Source: L’Italo-Americano

Italian phrase of the day
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Art Catholic traditions Christmas General Italy Roma Vatican

Rome Treasures – The Neapolitan Nativity in San Peter Square and the Arnolfo Nativity in Santa Maggiore

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The Neapolitan Nativity of St. Peter’s Square arrived for the first time in 2013 from the Abbey of Montevergine in the province of Benevento. It is 7 meters high with an area of ​​almost eighty square meters; it is in eighteenth-century style and is inspired by works of mercy. There are about twenty polychrome terracotta figures about two meters high.

Two delegations participated in the inauguration, one from Campania and the other from Poland, received by the Pope together with the children who made the decorations. As in previous years, these are small patients undergoing treatment at the oncology wards of some Italian hospitals that have participated in a program of recreational ceramic therapy organized and managed by the Countess Lene Thun Foundation.

In 2017, children from the earthquake-stricken areas of Central Italy, belonging to the archdiocese of Spoleto-Norcia, were also involved. The tree and the nativity remained illuminated until 7 January 2018, feast of the Baptism of the Lord, celebrated on the Sunday after the Epiphany.

But where is the oldest Nativity in the world? After the living Nativity of Greccio invented San Francesco, the oldest Nativity in the world seems to be that of Arnolfo di Cambio (Colle val d’Elsa 1240- Florence 1310) in Santa Maria Maggiore, the Roman Basilica dedicated to the cult of the Virgin and to children of Jesus.

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It is also the most touching and expressing sculpture in the history of sculpture. It is enough to look at the eyes of the ox and the donkey, present to the great event and looking at us with so much gentleness and humanity, or the massive figures of the shepherds, the humble people to whom the newly born son of God first revealed himself, to understand the greatness of this architect and sculptor (his is the project for Palazzo Vecchio and the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence).

The first sculptural representation of the Nativity in history, the Nativity would have been commissioned to the famous architect by Pope Niccolò IV, who was also the first Franciscan friar to become Pope. The eight statues of the Nativity, the Madonna with Child in the center, St. Joseph leaning on the stick, the heads of the ox and of the donkey and the Magi, one of which kneeling, seem to be full-relief sculptures , in reality they are high-reliefs on a marble surface.

The Madonna and Child is an addition of 1500 (the original would have been lost). Elegant and refined in the carvings, the sculpture recalls in some aspects the French Gothic of the same period with in addition the realistic-Romanic influence of the of the school of Nicola Pisano, with whom the artist trained. However, a unique style distinguishes the solemnity of the figures and the scenic layout. Inspired by the Greccio nativity, Arnolfo created a sculptural apparatus capable of celebrating the Nativity in all its sacredness, combining stylistic beauty and realistic research initiated in those years, the same ones that will mark the passage from the medieval to the modern age.

The Basilica, located on the summit of Mount Esquilino, is also known as “Sancta Maria ad Praesepem”, because according to tradition it would preserve in the crypt the remains of the manger, where the Infant Jesus was laid down the night of the birth. Arnolfo di Cambio, one of the most complex and original personalities of Italian Gothic, was trained in the workshop of Nicola Pisano, with whom he worked at the Arca di San Domenico in the church of the same name in Bologna (1264-67), and at the pulpit of the cathedral of Siena (1265-1269). Undisputed protagonist of the Roman art scene, he created in the eternal city the ciboria of the churches of San Paolo fuori le Mura, and of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, as well as the famous bronze statue of St. Peter Enthroned, object of great veneration in the Vatican Basilica.

Source: L’Italo-Americano

Source: Italian Ways

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Catholic traditions General Italy Traditions

Saint Lucia Celebration

Siracusa Cathedral
Siracusa Cathedral – photo by Massimo Borchi/Atlantide Phototravel/Getty Images

December 13 is celebrated in many Italian towns with Saint Lucia Day, a full-on celebration honoring the patron saint of blindness. One of the biggest celebrations takes place in Sicily where the city of Siracusa holds a huge parade carrying the saint on a golden coffin to the Church of Saint Lucia, and on December 20 there is another parade to return her to the crypt. There are celebrations all week and thousands of pilgrims come to Siracusa, and the festivities end with a big fireworks display over the harbor.

Click here to read more about this December 13th celebration

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Catholic traditions General Traditions

All Saints & All Souls Feasts

Chiesa di San Salvatore di Ognissanti
Chiesa di San Salvatore di Ognissanti
Italian cemetery
All Souls Feast
Umbria, Land of Saints and Traditions
The little town of Cascia is known, above all, as the home of one of the most venerated saints in the world, Santa Rita da Cascia — Photo by LisovS
Umbria, Land of Saints and Traditions
A view of Todi, known as the birthplace of Fra’ Jacopone da Todi, the Franciscan friar and mystic who also was one of the most important Medieval Italian poets. Photo: ggkuna
Umbria, Land of Saints and Traditions
A view of Gubbio city, a town and comune in the far northeastern part of the Italian province of Perugia (Umbria). It is located on the lowest slope of Mt. Ingino, a small mountain of the Apennines. — Photo by mauriziobiso_1