Italy is a country of wonderful traditions and celebrations, and the holiday season brings out some of the most magical. Here are a few of our Mozzafiato favorites:
An Alpine Christmas Market
Bolzano is the capital of the South Tyrol province in Northern Italy, and the Italian Christmas market was born in this alpine town, influenced by its proximity to Germany and Austria. Located in a valley south of the Alps, Bolzano sat at the crossroads of Italian, Austrian, and Bavarian cultures for centuries. Today, its complex history and architectural charm make it a popular tourist destination, and the Bolzano holiday markets are among the most popular in Italy.
While Christmas markets in Germany date back nearly 600 years, it’s a comparatively new tradition in Italy – where the Bolzano market, founded in 1991, is the country’s oldest. The streets are adorned with lights, and more than 80 Christmas stalls are set up on the Piazza Walther where vendors sell handmade crafts, wood carvings, regional products, delicious South Tyrol delicacies, and mulled wine. The area also tempts visitors with its quaint mountain inns, panoramic views, and wine country tours. Bolzano’s active, mountain culture also includes numerous alpine wellness offerings and spa treatments – if you visit mid-summer, you can enjoy a traditional bath in fresh meadow hay, a centuries-old practice believed to ease aches and pains.
(If you can’t get to the South Tyrol for a spa treatment this winter, you can still enjoy the indulgence of an at-home facial with one of the exquisite Borghese mud masks in our Mozzafiato collection.)
Feasting on Fish in Naples
While the Feast of the Seven Fishes, La Festa dei Sette Pesci, is beloved by Italian-Americans, it’s not typically celebrated in Italy. In fact, the tradition is likely a descendent of the Cena della Vigilia di Natale, a traditional Christmas Eve dinner in Naples and other parts of Campania that similarly centers around the sea. The Neapolitan Christmas Eve table is laden with the freshest fruits, vegetables, and seafood dishes including fried eel, salted codfish, marinated and deep-fried anchovies, shellfish, octopus, conch, pasta with clams, and more. The tradition dates back to the Roman Catholic practice of foregoing meat on the eve of a feast day. in Southern Italy, where seafood was traditionally cheap and plentiful, it’s a feast that all can enjoy – a feast that has taken on its own special character among Italians in the U.S.
If you’re planning to enjoy a fish-filled feast of your own this Christmas Eve, plan in advance to add a little home fragrance to the celebration with a tasteful diffuser or scented candle to keep your home smelling inviting and fresh even after the meal is through.
No Place Like Rome
The holidays are an ideal time to enjoy the beauty and warmth of the Eternal City. For the Christian faithful worldwide, Rome holds a special importance at Christmas time. The Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican is followed on Christmas day by the Pope’s speech and blessing of the crowd at St. Peter’s Basilica, an event that is broadcast worldwide. St. Peter’s Square is also famous for its elaborate display of life-size Nativity scenes, or Presepi, from around the world from December to January.
Jewish traditions also have deep roots in Rome, home to one of the most historic Jewish quarters in Europe. The Piazza Barberini is home to a vibrant annual Hanukkah street festival that includes dancing, food stalls, marches, and the lighting of a 20-foot-tall menorah.
A Celebration of An Old Woman’s Generous Spirit in Urbania
Italian folklore tells of a poor, old woman (perhaps a witch) who – much like Santa Claus -- travels across Italy on the eve of Epiphany (January 5 – the 12th day of Christmas) to fill children’s stockings with candy and gifts. Instead of a sleigh, she travels by broomstick, popping down chimneys to bring joy and treats to children.
Her legend has persisted in various forms since the 13th century: La Befana was an old woman, alone in her cottage, who was visited by the Three Wise Men on their way to meet the newborn Christ child. She declined to join them, embarrassed by her humble and dirty clothes beside the elegance of the Three Kings. She ran into her cottage to fetch a gift to send with the Kings, but they had gone and the star lighting their way had vanished. Now, each night before Epiphany, she travels with homemade sweets in search of the Christ child and leaves small treats for all the children she finds along the way. The La Befana tradition really took hold in the 19th century, and that’s when poet Giovanni Pascoli wrote a poem in her honor that translates to:
Here comes, here comes the Befana
She comes from the mountains in the deep of the night
Look how tired she is! All wrapped up
In snow and frost and the north wind!
Here comes, here comes the Befana!
While there are celebrations of La Befana throughout Italy, the festival in the town of Urbania in the Marche region January 4-6 is one of the most beloved. The town sets up a home for La Befana, who arrives by carriage and is presented with a golden key to her cottage. There are parades, music, dancing, and fireworks, and La Befana herself is known to fly down from the town’s bell tower. Her cottage is visited by thousands of children and their families every year.
At Mozzafiato, we’re bringing a little of the La Befana spirit home this season with our favorite bewitching stocking stuffers.