Christmas in Italy, much like here, is a time of celebration when families get together and spend time observing local traditions, feasting and attending Mass.
Father Christmas has an exotic name in Italy and is known as ‘Babbo Natale’.
Small children will mention his name frequently in the run up to Christmas and I remember only too well, my pupils bringing a small doll version of him to my lessons, resplendent in his red attire.
I also remember said ‘Babbo Natale’ being the object of toy envy when young Mario and Francesca started fighting over him, with one pulling at his legs, the other his head.
I think he ended up on the floor, overlooked by the train set, with his dignity somewhat compromised.
In fact, traditionally, the Christmas present-giver is the kindly witch, ‘La Befana’, who bestows all good children with gifts on January 6th, Epiphany.
Traditionally, they also receive a stocking –‘la calza’ – which, for the badly behaved ‘birichino’ (little imp), will be filled with ‘carbone’ (coal) which is really black sugar, and not to be confused with that Rolling Stones song.
Meanwhile, the better behaved can hope to find yummy sweets in there.
All this has been preceded by a spate of letter writing to the parents, in which they wish their forebears a merry Christmas; make promises that their behaviour will be exemplary and most pertinently, scribe a list of presents they wish to receive.
When young Mario asked me if he thought he’d get the sweets this Christmas and not the coal, I had to tell a white lie.
Good behaviour was not his forte.
Italian children also get dressed up and go visiting houses prior to Christmas, in the period known as the ‘novena’, when their songs will receive the odd coin or two for sweets.
Alongside these traditions, you will see many ‘Panettone’.
These very large cakes are filled with raisins and candied fruit.
Also, there’s ‘Pandoro’ which is equally scrumptious but without the fruit.
They are both quite delicious and well worth a nibble.
In summary folks, ‘Buon Natale!’