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Italian versus American Christmas

Merry Christmas or Buon Natale! Let us all celebrate the birth of Christ. It is that time of year when family and friends come together to rejoice for the savior is born. It is when we the love is most felt between family and friends and even strangers. The voices of carolers add to the festivities of the season (Miles 359). The Christmas tradition takes its roots from Christianity. This is also the reason behind the non-celebration of Christmas in some countries, especially those which are non-Christian.

Nevertheless, there are places like the United States and Italy where Christmas traditions are observed for the purpose of celebration, which transcends religious customs (Miles 359). As traditions dictate, Italians take turns drawing out a wrapped gift from an ornamental bowl which is called the urn of fate (Miles 359). As most Americans are Christians, holidays are encouraged during this time of year. This includes the tremendous amount of gift – giving and shopping (Barnett 144).

Italians decorate their homes during Christmas time with a ceppo (tree of light) or l’albero di natale, their version of the traditional Christmas tree (Miles 359). It is a wooden frame shaped like a pyramid. Resembling a ladder it is formed by several layers of wooden shelves as support. The presepe is placed at the bottom of the ceppo. Candies, fruits and other presents occupy the upper shelves. The ceppo is adorned with miniature pennants, gilt pine cones and colored paper. Candles are placed on it and further topped by either a doll or a star to complete the look.

The origin of the manger scene was in Italy. This is the reason why it has been an important part of the Italian Christmas tradition. Italian homes decorate their presepe or nativity scene as elaborately as they can afford it. Americans, on the other part of the globe adorn their homes with wreaths, mistletoes and Christmas trees too. The streets of New Mexico are lined with luminaires or candles in a bag full of sand during Christmas time. Houses with flat roof are also adorned with these. These serve to light the way for the newborn child. In Washington D. C.

, the first national living Christmas tree was planted way back in the year 1924. From then on, it has been the tradition of the President of the United States to turn on the ceremonial lights at Christmas. Going around with a star is characteristic of an Alaskan Christmas. A large star made out of bright colored paper is carried by boys and girls as they go door to door on Christmas day. They even bring lanterns on poles with them as they sing carols. Hospitable neighbors let them in for refreshments as young and old gather in observance of this joyful occasion at this time of the year (Barnett 144).

If the Italians have their Babbo Natale, Americans know him to be Santa Claus. He is known in the United States as the fat man on red robe and black boots, riding on his sleigh. He slides down the chimney to leave his presents to the nice kids at Christmas time. Gift giving in Italy happens on the la festa dell’ Epifania or the Epiphany which falls on the 6th of January. Babbo Natale makes his rounds on la vigilia di natale or Christmas Eve. In other parts of the region, he is known as La Befana, an Italian folk character. The gift – giver of Christmas gifts in other areas is believed to be St.

Lucia. On other places, he is known to be Gesu’ Bambino or the Child Jesus (Miles 359 – 360). The United States is a cultural melting pot indeed. In this part of the world, different customs and traditions blend in harmony. It is during Christmas time when this cultural diversity is very much evident. Nevertheless, the combination of different cultures eventually produced a distinctly American taste although traces of diverse roots of these traditions are somehow still evident. The most common among these influences are British in origin.

The Americans find a way to make Santa Claus feel at home. This is the reason why they created homes for him across the country. In one of the villages at Torrington, Connecticut, one can find a real life Santa, along with his elves. At Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington, New York a permanent home for Santa Claus was designed by Arto Monaco. This house replaced the reindeer for a blacksmith. It even has a post office and a chapel in its overall design. Every year, about 100,000 people visits the Monaco designed Santa home (Barnett 144).

Italian kids are not out reciting poems around the neighborhood, they lovingly write letters to their parents during Christmas while American kids list the things they would love to receive as presents from Santa Claus (Miles 359; Barnett 144). The holiday season does not start and end on the 25th of December as far as the Italian calendar is concerned. The Italians practice certain customs and traditions to mark this season. On la vigilia di natale or Christmas Eve, an elaborate meal called the pronzo delta vigilia is served. Here seafood soup or stew, fish, cannoli (Italian pastry) and other treats are served but no meat included.

When il natale (Christmas) falls, the whole family feast with panettone or the Christmas cake together with other meals (Miles 359). Potatoes, meat, onions and beans are boiled over campfires for a Christmas feast at New Mexico. To cup the meal, buns, breads and donuts are served with coffee. Polish Americans have their own unique holiday tradition. On the morning of Christmas Eve, no meat is served. However, when the first star appears over Wigiliais, meat can already be served for dinner. The main features of the meal are sweet meats made from poppy seeds and honey, various fish, mushroom, cabbage and beetroot soup.

The head of the house gives out an oplatek which is an oblong wafer. The nativity scene is imprinted on this oplatek. A piece of the oplatek is broken off as each family member including their friends who are present exchange wishes for one another. As tradition dictates, there is a place set especially for Mary and his son in case they come in search for a place to stay for the night. Hay is spread on the floor and under the tablecloth reminiscent of the manger where Christ the savior was born (Barnett 144). Carolers singing Christmas hymns provide entertainment in America.

As compared to their fellow Americans, Hungarian Americans place a high premium on church services and carols during Christmas Eve. On this day, they gather around the Christmas tree as they do their gift giving when the first star of the evening appears. Right after the gift giving seasonal foods are served. The rest of the family feasts on poppy seed, walnuts, biscuits, topped with aniseed, caraway or sesame seeds and dumplings. The Italian version of this is the Zampognari and Pifferai. Flute players and bagpipers from the Abruzzi Mountains of Rome are dressed in sheepskin vests, dark cloaks, white stockings and knee – high breeches.

They travel all the way to religious shrines to entertain the crowd (Barnett 144). We may not speak one language, we may not share one religion, we may not observe the same ritual but December 25 means the same thing for all of us. It is the day when the savior was born. It is the day when the promise of salvation was made flesh. On that night at a manger in Bethlehem, Jesus came to the world. In all humility, he lived his life on earth. In this light, let us remember that while there is nothing wrong with extravagant celebrations during Christmas, there is a much deeper meaning behind all these trappings.

There is more to the food served and the gifts given and received. It is the birth of Christ, and this is the perfect reason to celebrate. In all certainty, wherever in the world you are in at Christmas time, whichever way you celebrate it, one truth remains the same, it is the most wonderful time of the year (Maloney NP).

Works Cited Barnett, James Harwood. The American Christmas: A Study in National Culture. New Hampshire: Ayer Publishing, 1976. “Christmas in United States. ” 2008. TheHolidaySpot. com. Retrieved February 21, 2008, from http://www.theholidayspot.com/

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