Families around the world have their own unique ways of celebrating Christmas, incorporating quirky rituals that somehow become ingrained in the way that the day is celebrated each year. Yet however individual each person’s Christmas is, we’re inevitably influenced by our national culture – and as such, celebrating the season in a foreign country can open your eyes to a whole new world of magic and mysticism. At Engel & Völkers, we’ve experienced Christmases all around the world, so we decided to share some of our favourite national traditions.
In Italy, the focus on the family that’s evident throughout the year really comes into its own during the holidays, combining with devout Catholicism and just a few residual Pagan rites to create a rich and dramatic cultural legacy. Some scholars have even suggested that the official date of the Christmas miracle was deliberately chosen to replace existing winter solstice celebrations, in an attempt to help the recently converted locals identify with the holiday. Evidence that they might just be right can be found in traditions like the Festa di Ceppo, or ‘Festival of the Log’. A massive log, traditionally cut from the biggest tree you can find, is set alight on Christmas Eve and kept burning until the New Year. However, while this was once done to represent the rebirth of the sun, today you’re more likely to be told that it symbolises the log fire that warmed the Virgin Mary and newborn Jesus in Bethlehem.
Although many children worldwide now look forward eagerly to the arrival of Father Christmas, in Italy, La Befana still makes the occasional belated appearance. Travelling by flying broom, this sprightly old woman climbs down chimneys to deliver gifts of candy to well-behaved children on the 5th January – the Eve of Epiphany. In return, the children leave her a small meal of food and wine to ensure she can continue her journey without getting hungry. Although Befana’s appearance coincides with the ‘manifestation of the divinity’, her actions bear a striking resemblance to those of the ancient Roman goddess Strenia, whose presents included figs, dates and honey, adding a pagan touch to this most Christian of festivals.
One part of the Italian Christmas that may be slightly less appealing to younger members of the family is the Christmas Eve fast, which lasts until after midnight mass. On returning home, everyone thankfully tucks into the Feast of the Seven Fishes, an elaborate dinner traditionally incorporating seven types of seafood. The next day, meat is back on the menu in a lengthy evening meal finished off with a delicious panettone, Italy’s version of the Christmas cake. Traditional festive sweets like marzipan, nougat, gingerbread and sweet honey breads are happily devoured until well after the New Year’s celebrations. Since Italy is also the birthplace of Prosecco, no celebration would be complete without a plentiful supply of this bubbly beverage.
If you feel that Italian traditions are for life, not just for Christmas, you might want to consider investing in a second home of your own in this fascinating country. Whether you want to wake up to views over the Dolomite Mountains, the Northern Lakes or the Tuscan Hills, Engel & Völkers can help you find the right region and the right property for you and your family.