Around The World : The Traditions Of Italy
“A drink precedes a story.”
Italy : The Traditions
Religion plays a crucial role when a child is born to an Italian family. Most babies are baptized in a Roman Catholic ceremony. The parents choose a godmother and a godfather, whose duty it is to ensure that the child is raised in a proper religious manner. Many people think the godparents are the ones who will raise the child themselves if the birth parents are for some reason unable to, but such an arrangement isn't legally binding.
A traditional Italian courtship requires the permission of the bride's family before an official engagement can be made. As in much of the world, a diamond ring is worn to symbolize engagement and marriage. The wedding itself is usually held at a morning mass, followed by a day-long feast and reception. The bride and groom walk to the church together, and in some traditions they saw through a log together with a double-handled saw.
Christmas (Messa di Mezzanotte)
Story has it the first midnight mass was celebrated by Saint Telesphorus, the eight Pope, in the II century (although historians have serious doubts over this fact, which appears in a medieval book of pope biographies, the Liber Pontificalis). Since then, it spread widely and today, many Catholic and Anglican countries celebrate a midnight Christmas Mass.
New Years Eve (Cotechino (o zampone) e lenticchie)
Italy has many New Year’s Eve traditions designed to ensure the upcoming year brings prosperity and good fortune. The best known one is to eat lentils on 31 December to attract a steady flow of money during the year to come. Lentils symbolise coins, and custom has it that the more you eat, the more coins you’ll get. But of course, this being Italy, lentils alone would be rather bland, and so they are traditionally served with either cotechino-a rich sausage made with pork meat and rind-or zampone (pig’s trotter stuffed with the same filling as cotechino). Both cotechino and zampone, which should be boiled and served sliced alongside the braised lentils, represent prosperity-cotechino as one of the earliest ways of making full use of the pork, and zampone because it was the lifeline during a food shortage. Story has it that in the Renaissance, Pope Julius II besieged the town of Mirandola and the locals, faced with lack of food and desperate to preserve what little they had, came up with the idea of encasing a mix of pork meat and rind into the pig’s trotters. Zampone was born and, even though the Pope won in the end, the stuffed trotter remained popular with farmers from the area. It later spread to the rest of Italy, and found its apotheosis served with lentils. Just one word of caution though: to profit fully from the luck-bringing properties of cotechino (or zampone) e lenticchie, you must serve them when the clock strucks midnight (even if it means eating them after your dessert).
Twelfth Night (Calza della Befana)
Italian children are luckier than most. Not only do they get their presents on Christmas Day, they also get their stocking filled with goodies on the Twelfth Night. The stocking, or calza, makes its appearance on the eve of 6 January in Italian households. That night, the Befana-an old, ugly but fundamentally good witch-flies on her broomstick over the country to bring small presents and sweets to children. Entering through the chimney or the door keyhole (she is a witch, after all) she fills the stockings, sweeps the floor and leaves. That’s provided the children have been good, of course-as an Italian folk rhyme puts it, -la Befana vien di notte con le scarpe tutte rotte, con un sacco pien di doni da portare ai bimbi buoni- (the Befana comes at night with broken shoes and a bag full of presents to give to good children). Otherwise, she leaves them a lump of coal-but she must have become soft these days because she often leaves black rock candy instead. Although la Befana has a (tenuous) link with the Christian festivities-legend wants her to be a woman who gave shelter to the Wise Men on their way to see Baby Jesus; she refused to go with them, but then changed their mind and, to atone, she has been bringing presents and sweets to children ever since-its origins are probably much older, and may even be rooted in the Roman rites to honour the goddess Strenia. If so la Befana, with her broken shoes, would have been giving presents to children for more than 2,000 years.
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