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Celebrating Christmas in Italy

18 DEC 2013

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With another Christmas season upon us, it is rather fascinating to observe how it is celebrated in different parts of the world. This insightful blog post by John Cabot University describes some of the current practices and historical context of celebrating Christmas in Italy, where the American-style English university in Rome is located. Gift giving in Italy traditionally takes place on the Epiphany, January 6th, which closes about a month of the holiday season. The Epiphany commemorates the 12th day of Christmas when the three Wise Men arrived with gifts at the manger. According to legend, the men asked an old woman for directions on the night before finding the baby Jesus. She refused invitations to come along until seeing a great light in the sky, then set out bearing gifts belonging to her child who had died but she got lost and never found the manger. Now this witch, La Befana, arrives on her broomstick to fill children’s stockings on the eve of Epiphany.

Many Italian Christmas celebrations start on December 8th, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, and escalate until Epiphany on January 6th, a national holiday commemorating the 12th day of Christmas when the three Wise Men brought gifts for the Baby Jesus. In Italian folklore, a witch known as La Befana arrives on her broomstick on the night of January 5th to fill the children’s stockings with toys, and this is traditionally the main gift giving day, although Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) and giving presents on Christmas is becoming more common.”


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