The Christmas traditions in Italy are varied from region to region as much as the food. From the feudal periods there were protector Saints, festivities, and celebrations that were the sum of the different cultures that had passed through the area over the years. Italy had conquered the world and been conquered by the world, immigrated and received immigration, been the birthplace of rulers and the favorite vacation retreat of some foreign king. Its traditions and culture are vast.
Italy is also the center of the Roman Catholic Church. In 386 the Catholic Church became the church of state and began a process of dominating local rituals and celebrations thus incorporating existing festivities in Christian practices.
Today what is considered “Christmas” in the US is not necessarily part of the Italian Christmas tradition. Additionally the US has exasperated the commercial aspect of the holiday, re-enforcing certain symbols, such as the Christmas tree and Santa Claus, that do not find correspondence in Italian tradition. That is not to say that no one has a Christmas Tree or that people have no idea of Santa Claus, just that they are not dominate symbols, and while the retail corporations do heavily advertise during the Christmas period the advertising is more good feeling, family, friends and food rather than the latest plastic robot or new car.
Initially I felt cheated a bit at Christmas. I remembered Christmas as a child, the lights on every house, the music playing on every station, caroling with friends and just about every store promoting the holiday spirit. After a few years, I began to understand the Italian Christmas, I still wanted my Christmas tree but also saw the marvelous beauty of the nativity scenes. I never got over not having Santa Claus but did appreciate the folklore and tradition of Santa Lucia and the Befana. In fact I began to prefer the fact that gifts were exchanged on a different day than Christmas, leaving Christmas day to have family and close friends for a day of cooking, eating and exchanging good cheer.
To give my two cents on the current debate proceeding in the US about retailers attacking Christmas, the period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s eve is the hottest retail period during the year. The things we associate with Christianity are not the things the people who live in the cradle of the Roman Catholic Church perceive as Christianity, but corporate America has created a perception, over the last 50 years, of what Christmas should entail. Today they want to call it the “holiday season” because they feel it will open a greater addressable market.
What a bunch of hypocrites, and we the consumer are gullible to get caught up in this discussion. If a store does not want to say “Merry Christmas”, it is not a place where I want to buy a Christmas gift. I can buy a holiday gift in a store that so adamantly expresses its desire of “Happy Holidays” and bans Santa Claus however, I forgot what day I am supposed to give the Holiday gift. More importantly, I do not know why I would exchange a Holiday Gift. For me it is Christmas, with all of the connotations of Christmas. I do not condemn corporate America’s desire to “cash in” but for me, as a consumer, I want to buy things where my purchase is appreciated.
Please, let me know your thoughts.
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