Christmas Traditions

Christmas Traditions Christmas Traditions
  • Christmas and the Christmas carol originated in Italy
  • Devoted to Jesus, Saint Francis wrote a Christmas hymn in Latin, "Psalmus in Nativitate," but, apparently, no Christmas carols in Italian.
  • Franciscan friars are credited with several 13th century Italian carols.
  • The earliest known permanent nativity was created for the Rome Jubilee in 1300.
  • One of the largest nativity scenes is displayed at Saints Cosma and Damiano above the Forum in Rome. The Naples-style presepe of royalty dressed in fine fabrics was commissioned by Charles III of Naples and later purchased by the city of Rome and restored in the 1930s.
  • From the massive fortress of Castel of Sant'Angelo in Rome, a cannon is fired to proclaim the opening of the Holy Season. Emperor Hadrian's mausoleum takes its name from the vision of the angel by Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century.
  • The Ceppo (Yule log) is burned and wine toasts and wishes for the future are proclaimed.
  • The Baroque Piazza Navona is the flamboyant social center of Rome and a site for unique Christmas gifts and luxurious shops. Venetians pride themselves in their Campo Santo Stefano market filled with stalls selling handicrafts, nativity scenes and figurines, toys and seasonal treats. Food, drink and music complement the festivities.
  • The Santo Bambino statue carved from olive wood from the Garden of Gethsemane was ship-bound for Rome but sank. The statue miraculously washed up on shore and was eventually blessed by the pope and kept in the 6th century Church of Santa Maria Aracoeli. It was stolen in 1994 and is still missing. A reproduction has been made from carved olive wood. Roman children write their Christmas letters to Santo Bambino.
  • Christmas trees are not an Italian tradition, but are becoming increasingly popular. Though there is one in Rome's Saint Peter's Square, the two largest are in Piazza Venezia and next to the Coliseum.
  • A strict fast is observed 24 hours before Christmas, after which a meal of varying meatless dishes is served. Traditionally, there's an assortment of fish, calamari, pasta, vegetables, salad, fennel, fruits, chestnuts and sweets.
  • An old tradition is the Urn of Fate. This large bowl holds gifts for family members. Each member takes a turn at drawing a gift until the bowl is empty.