viva-SENZA-paura

insights on art, culture, lifestyle, spirituality, travel, music, society and much much more from a jet-setter currently on "furlough"…

Presepe Galore!

Back to blogging about Christmas again…



One thing I really looked forward to during my trip to Italy was seeing all the beautiful and original presepe (or nativity scenes) that pop up around the country during this sacred time of year. We know that Saint Francis of Assisi helped popularize the tradition of the presepe in the 13th Century. The reenactment (also known as a live nativity) and the depiction of the Christmas Story (both live and in figurines) spread in popularity thereafter.

During the Christmas season in Italy, presepes are to the number of Starbucks in New York City: they can be found on virtually every corner of the city, towns and countryside… both indoors and outdoors. Presepes pop up everywhere. The purpose of these nativity scenes (both big and small) is to recount the story of Christ’s birth; yet, at the same time, it also celebrates the artistry of this ancient and beloved craft. Each region uses its own special materials and styles to retell the mystery of the Christmas story. Many times, you will find Bethlehem in the local context, or even staged in a medieval castle!

The magic of Christmas is definitely celebrated in these ornate, beautiful works of art. Cheers to Italy for preserving this tradition and allowing all of us, regardless of race, religion and creed, to enjoy the presepe during this special time of year.

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O La Befana! La Befana…?

I know, I know. It’s now January (almost) 3rd and I have yet to finish my “12 Days of Christmas in Italy” feature. The last couple of weeks in 2011 got so busy with last minute holiday excitement, photography gigs and deadlines that I simply did not have the physical energy to sit down and do ANYTHING creative, let alone blog&reflect. But now, it’s a brand new year (Buon Anno a tutti!) and since the holidays don’t officially end until after January 6th (Ephiphany), that will be my new deadline. It’s the first week back from the holidays, so I’m going to go easy on myself… and others!

Now, here’s a short entry I’ll pen for this feature (with hopes that I can wake up at the regular time and make it to my day job tomorrow – our first day back). 

 LA BEFANA

Growing up, I was always envious of the kids who celebrated Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day. I always understood it to be a Catholic holiday and something that Protestants (the faith tradition in which I was raised) did not participate in. I didn’t know that much about Epiphany and why it was celebrated until I studied abroad in Italy in the spring of 2004.

According to Italian folklore (and many legends that one can believe), Befana (who probably originated from Central Italy and gets her name from Sabine/Roman goddess named Strina) was an old lady who spent her day cleaning and sweeping her house. One day, three travelers stopped by her house. It turns out that these three travelers were the Three Wise Men who were on their way to see the Baby Jesus in the Manger. They invited La Befana to come along. At first. she refused their invitation and considered it a waste of time. However, when she realized what she was missing out on, she grabbed her broom and ran out of the door, still wearing her apron. She tried to find the Three Wise Men, but they were long gone. To this day, La Befana is still running around in search of the Three Wise Men. Befana also brings gifts to children (small toys and sweets for the good children; onions, garlic and coal for the bad children) in hopes that she might find the Christ Child. Her role is similar to that of Santa Claus (o Babbo Natale), and many children eagerly anticipate her visit.

Source: http://goitaly.about.com/od/festivalsandevents/a/epiphany.htm

Writer’s Note: To the left, you can see a picture of La Befana standing outside of a toy/stationery store in Orvieto, Italy. To me, this representation of La Befana looks more like the evil, old peddler who gave a poisonous apple to Snow White than the “Epiphany Witch” who flies around the chimneys of Italy giving gifts to obedient children. January 6th is the official end of the Advent Season in Europe and is also a major religious holiday for those who observe it as such.

For those who are not religious? Well, it’s simply another day to give gifts…

L’Albero di Natale a P.za San Pietro

Fan Favorite of the Trip :: The Preparation of the Giant Christmas Tree in front of St. Peter’s Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro) at St. Peter’s Square (Piazza di San Pietro) in the Vatican City, Rome, Italy. This was taken two days before the annual, much anticipated Christmas Eve Mass and the unveiling of the Christmas tree, which remains up until the end of January. This is definitely on my list of things to do before I die…

Roma Termini Christmas Tree

Passing through the Roma Termini Train Station during the Christmas season? One cannot simply walk through the station without noticing the huge, 7 meter tall Christmas tree. This Christmas tree stands in the center of the entrance hall and towers over the hustle and bustle of travelers running to catch trains, buses and the metro. Strings of colorful lights and ornaments dawn this tall, pyramid shaped tree and since 2005, have held the secrets, wishes, prayers and desires of many people.

Locals and tourists alike fill the bottom of this tree using scraps of paper, the back of train ticket stubs and other random surfaces. Messages range from letters to Babbo Natale, the Italian version of Santa Claus to proclamations of the real meaning of Christmas and prayers to bring loved ones home for the holidays. Instead of Roma Termini simply a transit site, this tree has become a unique haven for passengers to share. Perhaps PostSecret needs to make another book with notes from this infamous tree?

Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle

Here are the lyrics of one of the most popular Italian Christmas carols, Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle, sung all over Italy during this festive time of year. The lyrics and music (especially when sung by children and Andrea Bocelli alike) have the ability to melt my heart. It may be a spiritual tune, but it definitely helps us remember the mystery of all things sacred. Enjoy this beautiful piece of art…

Tu scendi dalle stelle
(Italiano)

Tu scendi dalle stelle
O Re del Cielo
E vieni in una grotta
Al freddo al gelo.
E vieni in una grotta
Al freddo al gelo.

O Bambino mio Divino
Io ti vedo qui a tremar,
O Dio Beato
Ah, quanto ti costò
L’avermi amato.
Ah, quanto ti costò
L’avermi amato.

A te che sei del mondo,
Il creatore
Mancano panni e fuoco,
O mio Signore.
Mancano panni e fuoco,
O mio Signore.

Caro eletto, Pargoletto,
Quanto questa povertà,
Piu m’innamora
Giacche ti fece amor
Povero ancora.
Giacche ti fece amor
Povero ancora.

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