A cheery “Ciao” to you, one and all,
hoping each and everyone is keeping well
and getting into the swing of this year’s seasonal festivities.
I must admit, I’ve never been much of a fan of Christmas, since at the age of 9 or 10 I became very disillusioned on abruptly discovering that Father Christmas was in fact not real. I was absolutely devastated. How I had been duped !!!
My dear mother, Tina, always loved Christmas. She seemed to forever see Christmas through the eyes of an innocent child. When I was young she used to delight in taking me on trips to London to visit the large department stores with their glittering, alluring window displays. Here I would be enticed to visit dear Olde Santa in his magical twinkling grotto. However, so fervent was her passion, that in the period leading up to Christmas I was taken to visit Santa in several different stores. Even at the age of 4 or 5 I must have had quite an enquiring mind, as I soon began to deduce that each of the Santas somehow looked subtly different, ie the colour of their gloves, boots and belts etc !!!
In Italy festivities begin on the 6th December with the Festa di San Nicola, followed by the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th, which is marked by a Public Holiday. The 13th December is the feast of Santa Lucia also known as “The Festival of Lights”. It seems that no expense is spared as each Comune stings up its extravagant sparkling, displays of Christmas street illuminations, on entering or each town one is greeted with the cheery message Buona Festa.
Outside their premises some shop keepers lay out cheery red or green felt on the pavements, and display Christmas trees decorated with ribbons and bows, and assorted dangling pasta shapes that have been gilded with gold spray paint, creating a jolly festive atmosphere.
One thing that it is not easy to find in Italy is Christmas cards. Occasionally they are sold individually, and then choice is very limited, the quality very poor, and they very over-priced. Last year the only place we were able to find packs of Christmas cards was in IKEA in Naples. It seems that greetings cards in general have not really caught on in Italy. The staff at our local Post Office often comment on how many letters are cards we receive, particularly around Christmastime. I think that next year I will have to get busy and make my own greetings cards, perhaps this could be a new little cottage industry for me.
In Italy, in the weeks leading up to Christmas traditionally shepherd pipers, known as pifferai and zampognari, come down from the mountainous regions of the Abruzzi to herald the pending birth of the Christ child, by playing their traditional festive music. The ciaramella is a wooden flute, and the zambogna is a type of reed bag-pipe, the air sacks of which are traditionally made of goat or sheep skin and the flutes are commonly carved of olive wood. They musicians sport an unusual type of foot ware, known as the ciocia, which is said to date back to Etruscan times. This consists of a rudimentary leather sole which towards the toe curves upwards. This is held in place by long straps which are tightly bound around the foot and calf. This type of foot-ware is part of the local costume of the people of Ciociaria, who take their name from this unique type of shoe. My mother’s family originated from this region.
Each church erects a special Nativity tableau, called a presepe, many of the figurines that been hand crafted by traditional artisans. In certain towns it is possible to see a “living” Nativity scene, with real people and children dressed in costumes, acting out the traditional story. I am told such an event takes place annually in the medieval hill towns of Maranola and Minturno and we are hoping to go and take a look this Christmas.
In their own homes families also strive to recreate their own nativity scenes, some more elaborate than others, and encourage their children to play their part in the family’s preparations for Christmas. Shops sell many of the essential crèche components to create a fanciful display. These can range from the basics such as: cork, moss, bark and straw, to more extravagant additions such as snow capped mountains, caves, stables, bridges, lights and electrically driven streams and water-wheels. Also there is a wide range of figurines on offer, Mary and St Joseph, glittering winged angels, lowly farmyard animals, traditional shepherds playing their pipes, people representing other common professions, and of course il bambino Gesù, to be laid in the manger at midnight on Christmas Eve. The exotic Magi are added to the display on the day of the Epiphany. These figures range from decidedly tacky, mass produced, plastic specimens, to more tasteful, hand crafted statuettes. Sometimes such nativity scenes are handed down through the family, from one generation to another.
I recall one year, many years ago, my aunt once sent over a parcel containing a basic crib, with an integral musical box. It played the tune to the well loved Italian Christmas carol: “Tu scendi dalle stelle, O re del Cielo, E vieni in una grotta, Al freddo e al gelo.” As a child I was transfixed by the enchanting scene and the delightful rhythmical tune.
My mother used to describe to us how my grandfather, or Nonno in Italian, used to create their special Nativity scene. Being a skilled carpenter he constructed a splendid wooden crib and would work for many hours, painstakingly creating the display, with mountains made of cardboard and a night sky illuminated by tiny bulbs which ran off a battery. He would use earth for the ground, and flour for the snow. Then he would lovingly position the plaster statuettes of Our Lady, Joseph, the shepherds, kings, angels and animals to complete the scene. Unfortunately one Christmas the poor family cat got somewhat confused and did a “whoopsie” in the middle of the scene !!! I am sure he would have paid for his error! After this Nonno vowed never again to use real soil in the display.
Paul and I will be spending Christmas in Italy this year.
We would like to wish …..
Peace and goodwill to all men ( women and dogs !!!)
We hope that this year the true spirit of Christmas will enrich your lives.
We wish you health, happiness and harmony for the coming New Year
Louise and Paul
and of course the “Woof-Gang”
All photos by me © Louise Shapcott