Old traditions and ancient customs relive in Christmas here in Abruzzo, within the picturesque snow-capped mountains. The days before Christmas Eve, bagpipers come down from the Gran Sasso and the Majella mountains to warm up the villages with Christmas nenias. That’s the signal that the feast is approaching.
Photo courtesy of Antonio Bini
Typical of the Christmas period are also the living nativity scenes, which are still today set up in large part of Abruzzo. Particularly striking is the one inside the Grotte di Stiffe. The most important however is the crib of Rivisondoli, represented by the magnificent mountain scenery of this village, whose old town turns into a little Bethlehem till the Epiphany.
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We’ve just left the north of Italy and passing over the Appennini we land on the first of the central Italian regions. We are in Tuscany.
Tuscany is a region famous for its beautiful towns and architecture, art, culture, food and wine. But it has also a wonderful countryside, with gentle and harmonious panoramas. And it is especially during Christmas time that Tuscany dusts off its old rural traditions. Traditions are not kept alive only in a superficial way, but they are felt deeply by the local population.
On Christmas Eve the head of household lights up a big olive or oak root in the fireplace. Tradition wants that as long as the Yule log continues to burn, the door remains open. A good bowl of soup, followed by the typical cantuccini and brigidini, washed down with a glass of new wine are offered to anyone who comes in.
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And we finally arrive to the east border, in Friuli Venezia Giulia! Where Christmas traditions and stories find their origin long time ago.
Friuli Venezia Giulia is Italy’s most North-Eastern region. It borders Austria to the north and Slovenia to the east. While to the south it faces the Adriatic Sea. The major transport routes between the east and west of southern Europe pass through this region. And that’s why Friuli Venezia Giulia’s history is a mix of cultures and traditions.
Friuli Venezia Giulia’s Christmas traditions come from cultural mosaic. From December to January, from the sea to the mountains, a Central European mixture of ancient legends and folklore live on the streets and the most picturesque corners.
The Christmas spirit is more intense in the small towns “guarded” by the Eastern Alps. The rural sacredness and simplicity reign in a frame of snow and mountains.
On Christmas Eve, if a girl looks in the mirror with her hair down at midnight, she will see the image of the predestined groom.
Once in Friuli in fact the Christmas traditions were linked to magical beliefs. And still today you can feel the atmosphere.
A very common practice in the region is the setting on fire of the Nadalin (also called “zòc”) on the night of Christmas Eve. It has pagan origins but in Christian times has taken on a symbolic meaning. The Nadalin is a big log generally beech, oak or mulberry tree that is lit in the fireplace. According to the tradition, the Nadalin had to remain lighted on until the New Year, but if you could keep it burning until Epiphany, this would bring good fortune to the whole house. Once the festivity ended the coals of “zòc” were carefully preserved and used to light the fire when threatened by bad weather.
Together with the splinters of the Yule log, blessed olive tree leaves and some juniper branches were also burned deeming this practice a powerful talisman against witchcrafts and, generally, against bad luck.
Continue reading Friuli Venezia Giulia and its Christmas with fire and magic