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Weekly Bulletin December 25, 2022
by Terrie Evans
All through the month of December we have wished friends, Buone Feste (Happy Holidays) as we anticipated the 12 Days of Christmas from Christ’s Birth to the Feast of the Epiphany in January. In regions all over Italy and in Italian American communities unique traditions will take place that were handed down over many generations. Christmas Season is the most festive and important time for those Italian descent. On Saturday, December 24th many of us will celebrate Christmas Eve with a special dinner (Cenone della Vigilia) before attending Midnight Mass (La Messa della Vigilia). Tables might be adorned with a large candle symbolizing Christ as the light of the world as a 7-course fish dinner is served that represents the 7 Sacraments or Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Everyone will be welcomed at these Christmas Eve dinners, with Aunts, Uncles and too many cousins to count. The traditional zapples and wonderful crisp honey balls made in our grandparents simple kitchens will still be served by the next generations of wonderful cooks and bakers. Another staple on Christmas Eve will be the Marroni chestnuts imported from Italy that will be roasted later in the evening.
After Midnight Mass, the Presepe’s (Nativity Scenes) will be completed with the placement of the Bambino Jesus sometimes decorated with sprigs of greenery as the Romans did centuries ago. Children will count the hours for the early morning appearance of Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) who will place gifts under the Christmas Tree (Albero di Natale). In Rome on Christmas Eve, a beautiful ceremony will take place at the Santa Maria Aracoeli Church with candles and costumed musicians playing flutes, oboes and bagpipes. Those musicians, the Piferai, bagpipers who date back to the nineteenth century, would walk over a hundred miles to town playing music along the way. They would dress in rustic mountain gear with bright red jackets and broad brimmed hats adorned with red tassels. They are still very popular throughout Southern Italy.
Sunday, December 25th we will honor the birth of Jesus as we light our white Christ’s Candles at our 9:00 AM Mass. We wish everyone Buon Natale (Merry Christmas) as we celebrate our day with our families. At noon on this Sunday, Pope Francis will give his blessings to the large crowd gathered in Rome at Vatican Square. After Christmas Mass families will start preparing the midafternoon meal with different regions of Italy represented for their holiday menu. Generations who journeyed from cities and towns near Naples will make their traditional marinara sauce for their homemade lasagna or ravioli that was made by hand and frozen over the last two weeks. Families from the region of Puglia, will include fava beans, figs, grapes, melons and almonds on their holiday table. From Lombardy and Milan, the secret ingredient added by those cooks will be the spice saffron as they call their one-of-a-kind dishes, “Alla Milanese”. Generations from Sicily will offer couscous, orange salads, and many types of seafood for their Christmas Day meal. In the region of Venice, risotto, pine nuts, raisins, pumpkins, spinach, asparagus, peas and pomegranates are part of their traditional Christmas Day meal. Every region has its specialties with a variety of ingredients for appetizers, cheeses, soups, stews, breads, pasta dishes, seafood and meat. Varieties of white and red regional wines are served during the meal and after dinner, Amaretto (made from apricots) Anisette (flavored with anis and licorice) Frangelico (hazelnut flavored) Grappa (a type of brandy made with grapes) Sambuca (aniseed flavored) are some of the Liqueurs that will be offered with canoli’s, biscoti’s, or Panettone (that originated in Milan).
On Monday, December 26th we celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen (Santo Stefano) known as one of the 1st Social Workers of the church who devoted his life to feeding the poor. St. Stephen’s Day is considered the 2nd Day of Christmastide. The legend of this saint is that he tamed a wild horse with a Cross, that made St. Stephen the Patron Saint of horses. In history, the time between Christmas and Epiphany was a time for domestic animals, especially horses. Some churches will offer a special blessing in front of their church for horses on this feast day, a practice that is said to have started in the 10th Century in Germany. Remember, we will have a New Year’s Day Mass on Sunday January 1, 2023, at 9:00 AM.