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Buon Natale!  Christmas In Italy

Part 1: Origins in Pagan Celebrations
Red, white, and green—the colors of Italy's national flag, and the traditional Christmas colors as well. It may not be a surprise, then, that Christmas probably originated in Italy.

One widely held theory is that the holiday was an intentional christianization of Saturnalia and other pagan festivals. In the third and fourth centuries, the church in Rome found itself in fierce competition with popular pagan religions and mystery cults, most of them involving sun worship. From the middle of December through the first of January, Romans would engage in feasts and drunken revelry, paying homage to their gods and marking the winter solstice, when days began to lengthen.

In A.D. 274, Emperor Aurelian decreed December 25—the solstice on the Julian calendar—as natalis solis invicti ("birth of the invincible sun"), a festival honoring the sun god Mithras. In designating December 25 as the date for their Nativity feast Rome's Christians challenged paganism directly. They also were able to invoke rich biblical symbolism that described Jesus as the "Sun of Righteousness" and God's "true light," sent to dispel darkness in the world.

Over the centuries the Christmas holiday continued to be celebrated with many and varied customs created to mark the event. What is ironic, of course, is that while Christmas without Christ was once the norm, nowadays religious songs, nativity scenes, and church events all play a critical role in many cultures and religions when celebrating the holiday.

In modern-day Italy, the celebration of Christmas has its own unique flavor, combining pastoral traditions, traditional cultural rites, influences from Northern Europe, and a strong spiritual context to mark the important event.

Part 2:Christmas Carols Originated In Italy
Whether it's a solemn hymn, a Victorian-era melody, or a modern rock version of Jingle Bells, Christmas music is an integral part of the holiday celebration. Not only did Christmas originate in Italy, but it was also the birthplace of the first Christmas carol.

During the thirteenth century, among the early Franciscans, Saint Francis of Assisi introduced the carol, which soon spread all over Europe. He had a particular devotion and affection for the mysteries of the holy childhood of Jesus.

Saint Francis wrote a Christmas hymn in Latin—Psalmus in Nativitate—but there is no evidence that he composed carols in Italian. His companions and spiritual sons, however, the first Franciscan friars, contributed a large number of Italian Christmas carols. One of those thirteenth-century Italian carols has become very familiar as the theme on which Handel developed his Pastoral Symphony in the Messiah...

Part 6: Italian Christmas Traditions
During Christmastime, one readily observable difference between Italy and the United States, for instance, is the lack of crass commercialism that threatens to swallow up and completely secularize the holiday.

For instance, instead of writing letters to Santa Claus asking for presents (or, in the digital age, e-mailing Santa Claus), Italian children write letters to tell their parents how much they love them. The letter is normally placed under their father's plate and read after Christmas Eve dinner has been finished.

Italians have also adopted some of the northern European traditions as well. Nowadays, especially in northern Italy, a fair number of families decorate an evergreen tree in their home.

Credit to About.com - - For more About Italy in Christmas, see:
Buon Natale! Christmas in Italy - Origins in Pagan Celebrations
italian.about.com/library/weekly/aa120600a.htm

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