Here I go!

I've been told many times over the years that I should write travel guide books, but this is as close as I plan to come to that!

Since getting my first passport at age 43, I have gotten to go places in this world that I never dreamed of seeing, and I'm an inveterate note taker. My travels since 1986 have been as a professional travel agent...which only increased that note taking. I hope to share some of the things I've found interesting for one reason or another -- maybe for cultural or historic reasons, maybe just beautiful, maybe ultra good, maybe just hilarious. And sometimes just because I liked it, related to travel or not.

My speciality in the travel business is Italy, though I handle travel pretty much worldwide..and if I don't keep up with a particular area, one of the great agents in my office does. See for more about the professional side of my life.

Your comments and shared tips are very welcome! I truly believe "we get by with a little help from our friends."

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Italian Christmas

One of my favorite small wineries to visit and to have lunch in the Chianti area is Casa Emma, . Casa Emma also sends a fine monthly newsletter, and I'm borrowing from the December issue to share with you some information about Christmas in Italy.

<< Although many biblical historians believe that the actually birth of Jesus took place some time in the Spring, early Roman Christian's felt it important to create a feast day that coincided with the many pagan celebrations had always taken place during the winter solstice. The celebration of the birth of the sun soon became the celebration of the birth of the Son.

The nativity scene, a popular symbol of Christmas throughout the world, also has its roots in early Italian history. The first nativity scene, the presepio, was created by artist Giovanni Vellita in the village of Greccio in the year 1224. The piece was created at the request of none other than St. Francis Of Assisi. The presepio quickly became embraced as a holy symbol of Christmas when St. Francis said mass in front of Vellita's creation the first time.

The season of Christmas begins 8 days before Christmas on December 17th and lasts until the Epiphany (also known as "Little Christmas") on January 6th. The eight days before Christmas are known as the Novena and are often marked by children going door to door singing and giving recitations. Unlike the posadas common in Latin American cultures that symbolize the journey of Mary and Joseph in search of shelter, the Italian pastorals honor the journey of the shepherds to the manger.

Although dietary restrictions no longer play a central role in Catholic faith, many Italians still observe a strict fast from sundown on December 23rd to sundown on December 24th,. During the twilight hours of December 24th, candles or the traditional Yule log (which must burn through New Year's day), are lit and prayers are said around the family manger scene (the presepio) and a delicious feast is enjoyed before midnight mass.Because the regions of Italy are so diverse, it is difficult to identify one traditional Italian Christmas feast, but certain foods remain common. Fish remains a common ingredient, as older church doctrine limited the eating of meat on certain holy days. Most Christmas sweets contain nuts and honey, said to honor the fertility of the earth and make for a sweet new year. Panettone is a sponge cake studded with candied fruit - much lighter than the dense fruitcake concoctions that common in other countries! Nougat candies (torrone) and a rich gingerbread (panforte) are also very popular.

La Befana is Italy's answer to Santa Claus, although she arrives on the eve of the Epiphany instead of Christmas Eve. Legend has it that the Three Wise Men had stopped at La Befana's home asking for directions to the manger where the Christ child had been born. La Befana had no idea who they were in search of, and suspiciously declined to accompany them when the offered to let her join them. Rethinking their offer after they left, she decided to join them but became lost. She stopped every child who crossed her path and gave them treats in the possibility that one of them was the baby Jesus the three strangers had spoke of. And every year she continues her search for the Christ child she missed seeing, and she continues to leave treats for good children along the way!>>>

For photos of some amazing presepi, see

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