Many offers New Year's Day in Italy, If you want to visit Italy this is best time, for tradition and history
All the necessary preparations for Christmas and the new year's day are also made during the Novena. In Italy, Nativity Scenes are very popular and can be seen displayed in almost every Christian household. In fact the tradition of having Nativity Scenes began in Italy first and traces its origins back to St. Francis of Assisi and Giovanni Vellita, a work-man from the village of Greccio. Apparently St. Francis came up with the idea of performing mass before a recreated version of the Nativity Scene and asked the above mentioned Giovanni Vellita to construct a scaled down model for him. Giovanni Vellita set to work and, it seems, managed to render such an amazingly moving model that it profoundly impressed all beholders at the ensuing mass. After this Nativity Scenes or 'Presepios' (mangers) as they are known as in Italy became a norm at Christmas time and now people strive to create to best, most skillfully designed and decorated scenes. These scenes are arranged on a wooden pyramidal setting, sometimes several feet high, that is known as a Ceppo. At the top, of course, is the manger scene or 'Presepio' as it is called in Italy, in which you will often come across some very skillfully hand-carved and carefully detailed human and animal figures. On the shelves of the ceppo below this gaily packaged gifts and sweets are usually displayed and, while the overall decorations vary according to skill and taste, the whole pyramid is made as eye-catching as possible.
Aside from the Presepio - and usually next to it - each family also usually displays a large vessel or bowl that is dubbed as the Urn of Fate and is filled with presents.
The holiday season commences officially, atleast in Rome, with the firing of a canon from Castel St. Agnelo on Christmas Eve. On the day before Christmas Eve, a strict fast is observed - and perhaps with good reason for a hearty repast follows soon after on Christmas morning. The various delicious items that are traditionally served at this feast include Spaghetti, Anchovies, Amaretti (a baked sweet dish made up of eggs and almonds), Tortellini, Panetoni (a light cake that originated in Milan) and different types of chocolates.
Afterwards every member of the family takes his or her turn in extracting a gift from the Urn of Fate.
Many Italians, especially if they live in Vatican City, make it a point to be present in Vatican Square at noon on Christmas Day. This is the time when the Pope appears in his balcony to bless the devout crowd gathered below.
As twilight falls over the day, the family gathers once more around the Presepio and candles are lit and followed by prayers, songs, and poetry recitals.
Unlike the Christmas custom that is followed in the United States, the United Kingdom, and many other parts of the world, the main exchange of Christmas gifts in Italy takes place on the Feast of the Ephiphany. This event takes place on 6 January and it is on the night preceding day that Italian children hang up their stockings in anticipation of gifts. Here again Italian tradition deviates from the rest - the bringer of gifts is not the cheerfully rotund figure of dear old familiar Santa Claus, but a refreshingly different female character known as Befana - an authentic witch with broom and all!
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