Many of us have not been able to visit Italy in this sad and strange year. But wherever you are, whether or not you’re Italian, you can share in the joys of an Italian Christmas.
The ancient 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.
Modern Italian holidays blend religious and pagan traditions in celebrations that last from weeks before to weeks after December 25. Here are some key dates:
December 6: La festa di San Nicola, patron saint of shepherds and of Bari. He inspired the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas, from a shortened version of his Dutch name. When the British took over the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (now New York City), they adopted the gift-giving Sinterklaas but mispronounced the name as Santa Claus.