Christmas in Italy: The Original Santa Claus

In some parts of Italy the feast of San Nicola, patron saint of Bari, ushers in the Christmas season with the giving of gifts on the eve or morning of December 6, his onomastico (name’s day). Although many stories of San Nicola’ s life may be mythical, he did inspire the figure of a beloved old man—whether he’s known as Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) or Santa Claus—who gives out presents in December.

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An Italian Christmas: A Season of Celebrations

In ancient times the Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a winter solstice festival, with religious rites and drunken feasts. The early Christian church decreed December 25 — then the feast of the sun god Mithras — as the birthday of Gesù bambino (Baby Jesus), the “true light” who came to dispel darkness in the world. Modern Italian holidays blend religious and pagan festivities that create un’atmosfera natalizia that lasts from weeks before to weeks after December 25.

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Giving Thanks in Italian

Italians don’t observe the all-American holiday of thanksgiving (la festa del ringraziamento). There are Italian words but no cultural equivalents for the day when the Pilgrim fathers and the American Indians came together to celebrate the harvest  in the new world. Although turkey and pumpkinare available, Italians don’t prepare them in the traditional ways  that Americans do on Thanksgiving

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A Passion for Venice

No place on the planet looks like Venice, half sea and half land, an architectural fantasy that rose out of the Adriatic mudflats like a maritime Oz. None may have had a more improbable genesis or left a more remarkable legacy. For more than a millennium, longer than any nation in history, the Republic of Venice preserved its independence. The Venetians ruled a colonial empire larger than Great Britain’s, sent the first diplomats into the world, drenched their city in music, venerated beauty, and enthralled millions of visitors. The first Venetians had no such lofty ambitions. They were simply running for their lives.

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The Passion that Created the Italian Language

La Crusca, which reopened in 1955, maintains its sede, or central seat, in Florence’s elegant Villa Medicea di Castello, a favorite residence of Lorenzo Il Magnifico. Every year it invites distinguished scholars to join its ranks. Among those recently announced is Valeria della Valle, a professor of Italian linguistics at Rome’s Sapienza University, an editor of contemporary Italian dictionaries, the author of best-selling trade books on modern Italian and a collaborator on documentary films with RAI and the Istituto Luce Cinecittà.

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Tasting Passion in Italian Wine

The warm days of early November –- known as Indian summer in the United States –- are called “l’estate di San Martino” (the summer of St. Martin) in Italy. Wine producers celebrate the  saint’s feast on November 11 by uncorking the vino novello (new wine) from the recent vendemmia (grape harvest) and getting the first preview of the year’s vintage. As an Italian saying puts it, “Per San Martino, cadono le foglie e si spilla il vino.” (For St. Martin, the leaves fall, and the wine is tapped.)

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