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Christmas, the world light

Christmas in Italy? The most important and felt “holiday” to be celebrated with your family around which plenty of anniversaries and traditions are gathered, different according to the region they belong to. Christmas also brings the “pagan” echoes when, starting from the Advent period, it’s a pinwheel of lights, atmospheres, pines, gifts and Christmas objects: they are spread throughout the whole country and some of them are evergreen traditions, mainly the ones of Trentino-Alto Adige.

Since the beginning of December until January the 6th Italy is surrounded by thrilling feelings and emotions that are rooted in the Christian tradition but also remind the pagan ones. They originate a number of amazing special days starting from Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy) that opens the Christmas cycle: she was born in Siracusa - Sicily – but lived mainly in Sweden – she’s a very special immigrant since on December the 13th Northern-European people talk a lot about her. But how did it come that this Christian martyr who maybe lived in the third century started to distribute presents? It’s not easy at all to get out of this mix of legend and history. She brutally died after she decided to give herself to God and repudiated the pagan gods, according to the legend his jailors removed her eyes before killing her and it’s not by chance that on many ancient paintings she is shown with a plate with her own pupils on it. Maybe, in order to bright up the long Winter, Santa Lucia goes back and forth from the Northern Countries to Italy on her celebration day. In some Italian areas like Veneto and in the province of Bergamo and Trento – as well as in other mountains places she brings the presents to children while in a number of rural areas the bread is distributed among the poor people. If Santa Lucia opens the Christmas celebrations, the Befana (a witch) closes them. She’s the good little old woman, the mythical Italian character who brings the socks with gifts to good kids; they are left outside the windows or hung on the fireplaces on the night between January the 5th and the 6th: its origins go back to the dawn of time and, according to the popular culture, it is a mixture of folkloristic and Christian elements.

And now let’s have a look at the Three Wise Men; the tradition tells that their relics were taken from Constantinopolis to Milan in the IVth by the Bishop Eustorgio – to whom a cathedral is dedicated – but the date is not sure since Milan had two bishops with the same name. It is proved that the relics were in Milan in 1162 then they were moved to Köln in Germany in 1164 by Rinaldo of Dassel, the vice-chancellor of the Redbeard. They stayed there for centuries until in 1903 Milan could get back a part of what had been taken. Now in the cathedral of Sant’Eustorgio there are some bones of the Three Wise Men..

Luciana Francesca Rebonato

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