This reflection written by Angela Venezia originally appeared in the Superintendent’s Update by Superintendent Cliff Chuang on Friday, Dec. 15. Please find this week’s full issue of Superintendent’s Update and back issues at bedfordps.org.
Christmas Traditions with an Italian Twist by Angela Venezia, Davis School Physical Education and Wellness Specialist
During this busy time of year, many hear the words “Merry Christmas,” and think of all the secular images associated with it- visiting Santa, making gingerbread houses, baking cookies AND shopping, shopping and more shopping.
However, for many families within the United States whose heritage stems from another country, in addition to the many common “American” Christmas traditions: decorating a tree, hanging up a wreath/stocking and sending out cards, there are also specific cultural and/or religious traditions that are celebrated during the Christmas season.
For my family, both sets of grandparents emigrated from Italy (Sicily to be exact) to the United States (via Ellis Island) and settled in Boston (The West End and North End of Boston) where other families of Italian descent resided.
My grandparents arrived to America at a young age (One set of grandparents returned to Sicily only once in their lifetime.) and therefore sought to keep the cultural and religious traditions, which were part of their upbringing, alive during the Christmas season. Decades later, my family still celebrates the traditions that my grandparents instilled so many years ago.
The religious season of Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It is celebrated by lighting a candle each week. The candles are specific in color (three purple and one pink) and are lit in a specific order:
Week 1: Purple representing hope
Week 2: Purple representing peace
Week 3: Pink representing joy
Week 4: Purple representing faith
My family also display a crèche, which is the Bethlehem nativity scene, minus the baby/Messiah who has not been born yet, displayed at Christmas.
In many Italian families, Christmas Eve is as big, if not bigger, celebration than Christmas. When I was younger, Christmas Eve consisted of all of the extended family: grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. However, as families grew in size, each started their own separate celebrations.
Currently on Christmas Eve (la vigilia di Natale), my immediate family partakes in a seafood feast called the Feast of the Seven Fishes. (Festa dei Sette Pesci). This celebration commemorates the wait, the Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus.
There are varying theories why seven fishes are eaten. However, the reason that no meat is eaten on Christmas Eve is to honor the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church of abstaining from meat during particular feast/holy days.
After the Christmas Eve celebration, many churches offer a once-a-year opportunity to attend a special midnight mass where the the birth of the savior is fulfilled and the baby Jesus is now placed in the manger celebrating his birthday on Christmas Day. My family attends this special mass and then ends their Christmas Eve celebration to rest up for another full day of celebrating on Christmas Day.
For those families celebrating various traditions during the Christmas season, I wish you a Merry Christmas, Buon Natale, Feliz Navidad, Joyoux Noel, Feliz Natal (to name a few).
For those celebrating other cherished celebrations and traditions, I wish you the happiest and healthiest holiday season. Happy 2024 to all!