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Christmas Time in Southern Italy

When I was growing up in Italy the Christmas Holidays started on December 8 and went on until Jan 6 the Epiphany.

On Christmas Eve we would have a traditional fish dinner but it did not consist of 7 fish like some Italian Americans do here. We lived in the mountains so there were not a lot of different kinds of fish available.

We had river fish, vongole (clams), eel and a lot of baccala! (dried salted cod)

On Christmas Day we did not receive gifts.  We would go to Mass and then we would go visit our family.

The kids would especially like to visit relatives they hadn’t seen in a while because the relatives would give them money.

After lunch on Christmas the adults would play cards and all my cousins would go into town to see a movie.

We would spend every day between Christmas and the Epiphany visiting with family, playing cards and tombola every day.

No one went to work or school during that time.  It was just a nice time to really enjoy your family and friends.

January 6 is the Epiphany, the day that the wisemen brought gifts to the baby Jesus.   It signifies the end of the Holiday season in Italy and it is also the day that the Befana comes to leave gifts.

La Befana is said to be  a witch, who flys on her broom and visits all the children in Italy on the eve of the Epiphany, She fills the children’s stockings full of gifts if they were good or coal if they were bad. Children would put their stockings out the night before and in the morning they would find nuts, tangerines, and small gifts of things they need such as clothes.

Here is a song the children sometimes sing while waiting for La Befana to come:

La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
col cappello alla romana

viva viva La Befana.

(The Befana comes at night, with worn-out shoes, with a Roman-style cap, long live La Befana!)

Nowadays some of the traditions have changed  Some children receive presents from Father Christmas,and candy coal (not real coal) from La Befana.   But the tradition of celebrating the 12 days of Christmas (Dec 25-Jan 6) still exists today.