Until recently, Christmas in Italy was exclusively a family feast, and children only received gifts on Epiphany (January 6). After leaving out a bottle of wine and some slices of salami to appease La Befana the night before, in the morning they would discover sweets and gifts left in their stockings and shoes. The presents were traditionally a piece of fruit or candy, but naughty children might also receive a lump of coal.
This tradition has morphed into leaving gifts not only in stockings or shoes, but giving gifts of edible chocolate shoes filled with treats. Obviously, with chocolatiers making very high quality pieces of art in the form of shoes, this tradition is not just for little ones any longer...
Now that the New Year is behind us, the fireworks smoldering out, the empty bottles of Prosecco dumped into the recycling bin and our stomachs filled to the breaking point, you might think that the holiday is over. In Italy, the Season has another week to go...
Christmas time in Italy is not finished until the Epiphany on January 6th (giorno della Befana). In essence, the Twelve Nights of Christmas come after December 25th.
On the night of the Epiphany, children wait for the Befana the Christmas Witch who--according to Italian folklore--arrives on a broomstick, comes down the chimneys and fills kids’ stockings with sweets, chocolate or a lump of coal for those who have been naughty.
Children will hang stockings on the mantle for Befana to fill, even though the modern custom of receiving gifts on Christmas Day is also enjoyed. In parts of northern Italy, the Three Kings might bring your present rather than Befana. And even though Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) might have brought them some small gifts on December 25th, the main day for present giving is on Epiphany.
Many Italians continue the Holiday season by taking a trip down South if the weather is warm or up North or to the mountains where they can enjoy some skiing. The week following Capodanno is for family gatherings, vising distant relatives or simply spending time at home with their children, who are home on Christmas break until after the Epiphany.
In some towns, Christmas markets are still running strong:
Trento: from November 22, to January 6 (closed on Christmas day). The Trento Christmas market will be twice as big with wooden huts selling Christmas and traditional goods both in Piazza Fiera and Piazza Cesare Battisti. The traditional Nativity Scene will be hosted in Piazza Duomo.
Levico Terme: from November 22 to January 6.
Rovereto: from November 22 to January 6.
Arco: from November 21 to January 6.
Merano: November 24th - January 6th on Piazza Terme and surrounding streets.
Vipiteno, South Tyrol: November 24th - January 6th, Piazza Città
Naples, Campania: any time of the year, visit artisans that create presepe and character figurines and accessories. On Via San Gregorio Armeno
A seemingly dying tradition in Italy involves tossing old personal items directly out of the window. Be careful... even though it's not done all that often, you might still come across unexplained personal trash laying on the streets below apartment blocks. Keep an eye out while strolling around on New Year's Eve, just in case!
Another old ritual involves smashing plates, glasses, vases and other pottery against the ground to drive away any bad omens that might infect the New Year, beginning everything anew. Some might do this in their house, but you will often see broken china laying at the curbside... something else to watch out for!
This Halloween season I thought I'd give all my fellow Grand Voyage Italy goblins and ghouls a little scare... from the horrors of the ancient Romans: Monsters from myths, legends and pagan lore. So, pull your loved one close, get the kiddies (as long as they are beyond the age of having nightmares), pour some spiced wine, roast some chestnuts, turn the lights down low and put on some spooky music--preferably an old, scratchy opera recording.
And above all...
Sleep tight... and don't let anything bite.