March in Italy

Submitted by Charlene Pardo

March in Italy can be rainy and cold in the northern regions of Italy, but there are still many interesting things to do. It’s a great time to go skiing in the Italian Alps and visit the majestic Dolomite mountains. Lake Garda is also a popular mountain destination in March for hiking, biking, and sailing before the summer rates go into effect after Easter. If you’re looking for warmer weather, head for Sicily and visit Palermo, Messina, or Taormina, which get impossibly crowded in summer, but are very pleasant in March.

If you’re superstitious or if you had to read the play “Julius Caesar” in high school, beware of the Ides of March! These were the fateful words of the soothsayer to the Roman emperor. On March 15, 44 BC, the so-called “friends” of Julius Caesar stabbed him to death to gain control of the Senate. Rome still commemorates the day with an historical reenactment of the deed, a marathon near the site, and visits to Caesar’s grave at the Roman Forum. People still leave flowers at the gravesite!

No matter where you go in Italy, the 19th of March will be a a grand celebration. It’s the Feast of St Joseph and Italian Father’s Day. St Joseph became very popular in the Middle Ages during a severe drought in Sicily. Starving families prayed to St Joseph for rain and as soon as the rain came down, the farmers went to work planting crops like fava beans. That’s why St Joseph’s tables always include fava beans, a drought tolerant, high-yield crop that became a staple Italian food during tough economic times.

In addition to fish, pasta, and fava bean dishes, there are breads, pastries, candles, and flowers on the home altar to celebrate with family and friends and anyone who might need a meal. Traditionally, no meat was allowed at the table because St Joseph’s Day is in Lent, but Italians consoled themselves with a big meatless feast topped off with a cream-filled puff pastry called “zeppole”.

Enjoy your March celebrations with family and friends and share our rich Italian traditions with everyone you know.


Red Underwear and Other Fun Things…

Contributed by Charlene…
Although January is the off-season in Italy, you can enjoy a ski holiday in the north or a mild winter vacation in Sicily. Italian festivals and celebrations are in season all year round and January is no exception.
“Cenone di Capodanno” is the big New Year’s Eve dinner. Of course, Italian New Year’s Eve has the tradition fireworks and bubbly drinks, but Italians also celebrate by eating lentils and sausages at midnight to bring prosperity into their homes. Lentils are considered good luck because they look like little gold coins and they taste great with sausage. Starting the New Year on a full stomach is an Italian tradition, so eat up and enjoy.
“Lancio di Cocci” is the custom of throwing old kitchen crockery and other old household items out the window at midnight. The satisfying crash gets rid of all of last year’s bad luck and makes way for the good things to come.
Wearing Red Underwear. Both men and women wear new red underwear to greet the New Year and every Italian clothing store carries a full supply. There were many theories about why the underwear must be red: a passion for life, a good luck color, a symbol of courage, etc. Choose your favorite one and greet the New Year Italian style!
Other January celebrations include Epiphany (January 6th) when the good witch, La Befana, brings toys and sweets to the children. Legend says the three kings invited La Befana to join them on their journey to meet the Christ Child, but she said she was too busy. Later she regretted her decision and delivered belated gifts to every household.
January 7th is Tricolore Day, celebrating the three colors of the Italian flag: green, white, and red. It’s a day for parades, patriotic songs, and teaching Italian children about their history.
Let’s continue to share our history with family and friends and may your New Year be blessed with all good things. Felice Anno Nuovo!

Happy St. Nicholas Day

Submitted by Charlene Pardo
La Festa di San Nicola is an Italian festival celebrated today on December 6 in honor of St Nicholas. In addition to being the historical origin of Santa Claus, Nicholas was also the bishop of Myra, Turkey in the 4th century and the patron of shepherds. When the town of Pollutri, Abruzzo experienced a famine, the shepherds asked Nicholas for help. He only had a handful of fava beans, but it was miraculously turned into enough to feed the whole village. To commemorate the miracle, the town still lights fires under enormous cauldrons of fava beans on December 6th and tonight everyone has fava beans for dinner.
Nicholas also secretly helped a poor man with three daughters. The father couldn’t provide sufficient dowries for his daughters to get married, so they would have eventually had to beg or “walk the streets”.
During the night, Nicholas slipped three bags of gold into the girls’ stockings which were drying by the fireplace. This act of kindness developed into our tradition of Saint Nick bringing gifts to children while they sleep and hiding them in their stockings. It’s also the source of pawnshops using three gold balls as the universal symbol of their establishments. Take a hint from St Nicholas this Christmas and do a good deed  without telling anyone about it.
Here are some other Italian Christmas traditions to incorporate into your celebrations this year:
Spumante or Prosecco- Bubbly ways to toast “Italian style” at holiday parties.
Panettone-sweet Christmas bread with nuts and bits of dried fruit.
Cenone- Feast of the Seven Fishes (Meatless Christmas Eve dinner).
Presepio- Nativity or Manger scenes first made popular by Francis of Assisi.
Buon Natale!- Wish somebody “Merry Christmas” in Italian!

Italian Christmas Markets

The very first traditional Christmas markets date back to around the 14th century in Germany and Alsace and then spread along the Alps, including Italy. If you want a taste of the most authentic versions then you must go and discover the South Tyrolean Christmas Markets: from November to January the original Christmas markets of South Tyrol embellish the streets and squares of Bolzano, Merano, Bressanone, Brunico and Vipiteno (all in province of South Tyrol). Easily reachable also by train, these are the ideal spots where to immerse yourself in an exciting atmosphere made of colors, perfumes and tastes that
warm anyone’s heart.

No less traditional are the markets of Nativity scene art in Naples, an art dating back to the late 1700s that remained unchanged over the centuries: from early November to January 6th, the well-known Nativity scene craftsmen’s workshops in Via San Gregorio Armeno – a real institution in Naples–display figurines for traditional and more eccentric Nativity scenes. In addition to the historic craft shops of San Gregorio Armeno, for the whole Christmas period, the Municipality of Naples organizes a rich calendar of events with theatre, music and dance shows, guided tours and many markets of local and Christmas handicrafts in different parts of the city.

In Milan, instead, the Christmas markets are mainly held in relation to “Fiera degli Oh Bej! Oh Bej”, the traditional markets for St. Ambrose's Day, patron saint of Milan: to the markets, which some believe date back to the year 1288, are held from December 5th to 8th in front of the Sforza Castle. The Christmas holiday period, for Milan, includes a calendar packed with events and in particular, traditionally two historic events are held in the city: the Scala Opening Night on the night of December 7th, and the Christmas concert in the Cathedral, free and open to everyone, on the evening of December 20th.

If you want to enjoy your Christmas holiday in Italy with a high wow factor you can’t miss Matera and its evocative Nativity play: every weekend in December a sacred-theatrical representation of the Nativity takes place in the amazing setting of the Sassi di Matera, which has also been Italy’s Capital of Culture for 2019. Between Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveso a touching itinerary rich in charm and spirituality unwinds, featuring actors who will re-enact different scenes of everyday-life in the Judea of two thousand years ago. (Province of Basilicata, region of Matera in southern Italy) Christmas is also particularly special in Gubbio (Central Italy), in Umbria, where every year, on the night of 7 December, the historic Christmas tree, the biggest in the world, is lit up. Created at the foot of Mount Igino and stretching until the medieval city walls, the tree is illuminated by over 700 multicolored lights, spans a length of 750 meters and an area of 130,000 square meters.

But Christmas in Gubbio doesn’t stop there: in Piazza 40 Martiri the characteristic Christmas markets are held, while the medieval San Martino neighborhood hosts the traditional nativity scene and last but not least, the miniature train and panoramic wheel from which visitors can enjoy an unparalleled view of Gubbio and its Christmas tree.

***Special thanks to Brother Mark Fini for compiling this information