We had a lovely Christmas, and filled up our tree with hand-crafted ornaments and our ceiling with paper-cut snowflakes. We ate panettone---the Italian Christmas cake---and visited our nearby Christmas festival many times over the course of 3 weeks (where we bought metal sculptures, slippers, bratwurst, minerals/gemstones, a hat, Dutch cheese, larger than life pretzels, bags of candy, mulled wine, German-made wooden nativities and apple strudel).
We exchanged names (6 people---our family of 4 plus James' parents---drew 2 names each), and set a 10 euro limit. Half the fun was being sneaky, then wrapping everything with paper, bags and string we had on hand. We went to mass at the Duomo on Christmas eve. And it wouldn't be Christmas without a visit from Santa Claus. Anthony and Caleb each found a stocking 'hung with care' on a nearby window. It was full of chocolate and fireworks (big deal here for New Years eve!), little soccer clocks, paints and brushes, and tiny little glass fish.
But here in Italy, Santa Claus goes by Babbo Natale. And we are convinced he collaborated with La Befana (the "Christmas Witch" is pictured on the stockings). If you are a child in Italy, you may very well have visits from these two holiday icons. On Christmas Eve, Italian children hope for a visit from Babbo, and his female counterpart is likely to visit on January 6.
Legend has it that La Befana (meaning: Giver of Gifts) was an old Italian grandma-type, happily cleaning her house, when three men showed up at her door. Yes, the three wise men. Myth says she took them in and fed them. As they left---to continue their journey to find the Christ child---they invited her to join them. She stayed, apparently to tidy up her home (think: broom).
Not long after they left, she regretted that she had not joined them. So she left---broom in hand---to catch up with them. She ran so fast, looking and searching for them... eventually she was zooming on her broom. To this day, she leaves little gifts for girls and boys on January 5, the eve of the Epiphany.
The name Befana is also rumored to be a mispronunciation of the Italian word epifania which stands for epiphany. La Befana fills childrens' stockings with candy or a lump of coal. It is also believed that she sweeps the floor before she leaves. Many households leave her a small glass of wine and a small plate of goodies.
Thanks to La Befana, Babbo Natale, and an extended visit from James' parents (Oma and Opa), our Christmas was full of wine, plates of goodies, little gifts, stockings and I confess... a bit of sweeping.
(P.S. if you want to peek at our Christmas Album, you can find it here).
(P.P.S. please forgive this tecnorati code: PJ4MSZPANCRJ)