Holidays Around the World: Italy
Buon Natale! Merry Christmas!
I love the holiday season. It’s always so magical. There is no other time of the year when the whole world seems to come together in anticipation.
Although the holiday season is celebrated around the world, it looks different wherever you go. Each country is rich with its own history and traditions.
Once you start learning about how the rest of the world celebrates, you quickly realize how similar many of these stories are. It’s a wonderful way that we are all connected.
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Every Christmas, my family spends a lot time at Epcot, listening to the storytellers share their holiday stories. We love learning about holidays around the world.
One of our favorite pavilions is Italy, where La Befana tells about her role in Italy’s traditions.
The Legend of La Befana
La Befana is a kind old witch that brings Italian children gifts on January 6, the Feast of Epiphany. Every year, children all over Italy hang their stockings on this day in anticipation of a visit from La Befana.
Legend has it that on the way to Bethlehem, the Three Wise Men stopped by La Befana’s hut to ask for directions. They asked her to join them on their journey, but she refused because she was busy. Then a shepherd stopped and asked her to join him as he went to pay respects to the Baby. She again refused.
That evening, she saw the great light in the sky and thought maybe she should have gone with the men. So she gathered up some toys that belonged to her child who had died and hurried off after them. She wasn’t able to find the manger or the Wise Men.
Every year she goes in search for the Christ Child, and when she can’t find him, she leaves her gifts for the good children and coal (now rock candy) for the naughty ones.
We not only enjoy hearing La Befana tell her story at Epcot, but one of our favorite family traditions comes from from my Italian heritage.
Pizzelle Christmas Cookies
I have made pizzelles since I was a girl. I don’t remember a Christmas when we didn’t have these cookies.
Now, I make them with my children. Even though we make lots of cookies together during the season (another tradition), pizzelles are one of the few that we create each and every Christmas.
They are classic flat Italian cookies that resemble a waffle that are slightly sweet and customarily have the flavor of anise.
Originating from mid-Italy, they are the oldest known cookie. Pizzelles can be served crisp or left soft like a waffle to be rolled and stuffed with creme or berries.
You make them by placing dough into a special iron. Centuries ago, families would have the blacksmith make them an iron, containing the family crest or a personalized pattern that would transfer on to the cookie. They would place the iron into the fire to cook the cookies. Today’s irons are electric and have a standard pattern on them.
Holidays are a time for traditions. Traditions connect us to our past. They are part of what make the holidays special to each of us.
Do you incorporate any customs from around the world into your family’s holiday?
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