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If you're wondering how to celebrate an Italian Christmas with your children this holiday, here are some educational ideas that will help to keep them entertained, and may even help you start new family traditions at the same time.
Christmas is a huge holiday in Italy, a predominantly Catholic country. The season officially begins on the Day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary on Dec. 8, and continue through Jan. 6, the 12th day of Christmas and the Day of the Epiphany. Christmas decorations and Christmas markets first start appearing on Dec. 8.
Italian children frequently start the Christmas season on Dec. 6, which is St. Nicholas Day, by writing a letter to St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus. It's easy to share in this tradition by having your own children write to Santa Claus… and you may get some ideas on what they want for Christmas.
Making a Nativity Scene
Nativity scenes, or presepi, are a common and elaborate part of Italian Christmas decorations. Naples is the best place to see elaborate presepi, and there's a tremendous display in Saint Peter's Square in Vatican City. In Italy, there are also living presepi, in which actors and animals recreate the Nativity scene, exhibitions with hundreds of crèches and mechanized figurines, and museums devoted solely to presepi.
In the spirit of the season, teach a youngster about the history of the nativity and help her to construct her own crèche for the Christmas season. You may find that crèche becomes a precious family heirloom.
Italian Cooking and Baking With Kids at Christmas
Children of all ages the world over have heart-warming memories of mouth-watering smells emanating from the kitchen at Christmas time. Why not let your children help bake an Italian dessert like biscotti or cicerata. They are two simple, kid-proof dessert recipes that children will enjoy learning to prepare.
If you have older children, you can get them involved in meal preparations for Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Italians avoid meat on Christmas Eve as a way of purifying themselves for Christmas and instead focus on fish as the main course. But the menus for both days include multiple dishes and sumptuous cuisine.
Sing Italian Christmas Carols
Christmas caroling begins in earnest in Italy during the week before Christmas, and caroling is a wonderful way to share Italian Christmas tradition with your children. Popular Italian Christmas carols (canzoni di Natale) include:
- Gesù Bambino 'l È Nato ("Baby Jesus Is Born")
- Tu Scendi dalle Stelle ("You Came Down From the Stars")
- Mille Cherubini in Coro ("A Thousand-Cherub Chorus")
- La Canzone di Zampagnone ("Carol of the Bagpipers")
For a true diversion, try filastrocche calabresi sul Natale, Calabrian dialect Christmas songs.
Learn About the Legend of La Befana
You and your children can learn about the legend of La Befana. This story of an old witch who brings presents to children on Jan. 5, the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany, is very appealing to youngsters. La Befana also is called the Christmas Witch, and like Santa Claus, she enters homes through the chimney.