Tags: Carnival of Genealogy, Christmas, famiglia, family history, Holiday Spirit, Italy, memories, Presepi, ramblings
I brought these treasures home from Italy and Germany – I hate to even take them down, preferring to leave them to grace my kitchen year round. No – they are NOT kitchen witches, although often mistakenly called so. These are replicas of La Befana also called Nona Befana.
She was according to legend an old woman who was constantly cleaning her home, something typically Italian I might add! When the three Magi came by searching the Christ Child she was too busy. Then her heart spoke to her and she began to search too.
Now she roams the earth each January 6th searching as did the Magi for Him! Let her help keep Christmas alive a bit longer for all of us each season!
Tags: Christmas, famiglia, family, Holiday Spirit, Italy, love of family, memories, Presepi, ramblings
Christmas is always my personal favorite – and fortunately I married a man who also loves the holidays. Growing up in Italy Valentino approached the Holiday Season a bit differently than most Americans. The emphasis was never on extravagant gifts but rather on family and sharing love, hospitality, and spiritual values with those around him. He doesn’t remember a tree being the central theme but rather the presepe – nativity – was the center of the family holiday. Later there would also be a tree that family would pose near. But it was the large nativity display that he most eagerly awaited setting up every year. Coins would be saved to buy a figure or two whenever they could afford. These were the old composition figures, many wax-coated to make the colors shine. The display would consist of all of Bethlehem as they thought of it. There would be many shepherds and their sheep scattered all over the mountain on the way to the crèche.
When Valentino and I first married, he was reminiscing about his childhood presepe and my parents were soon interested. We lived with them in Connecticut the first few years. Dad asked if Valentino would build a display for everyone to enjoy. We shopped until we found the perfect set – naturally it was from Italy, a Fontanini! Made of a safe polymer in old fashioned wood tones, it was the perfect choice for an outdoor display. Valentino built a small display right near the front entrance and covered it over with pine boughs and set small twinkly clear lights like stars all throughout them. The ground cover was sand with white flour roads to move the Three Wise Men along their journey day by day closer and closer to the crèche. Scattered about were small wood huts and shepherds with sheep. What a sweet memory – but sadly Florida hurricanes years later would ruin our few photos!
When we made the move to Florida we knew it would be even nicer to build this tradition for our children. The temperate weather here and a big covered entrance meant we could enlarge the display year by year. The boys anxiously awaited their trip to our favorite Christmas store to each choose a new figure to add to the display. It became a family affair to set up the display – usually taking a long weekend to get everything in place. Valentino would take the time to share the wonderful bible stories of Jesus’ birth in simple enough terms for the boys to understand. Soon many of the neighborhood children would want to listen too. Year by year the display grew larger and more elaborate as more shepherds and then angels and townspeople were added. Then we began to find that some smaller children were dropping by when we weren’t home to play with the figures. The Fontanini figures are unbreakable but the money we had invested in them had grown considerably. Fontanini had started a collector’s club and offered special limited edition figures that we had begun to enjoy. Sadly it became obvious we would no longer be able to make the display an outside one. About that time we moved to a newer home and gained a huge family room with plenty of space to set up the display. I discovered a group of collectors online and our involvement with Fontanini and all things Italian nativity related grew into an almost obsessive compulsion! Then we were able to visit the actual Italian factory on a trip to Italy! What a joy! The Fontanini folks are some of the warmest and most enjoyable people. They treated us to a tour of the facilities and gifted us with a few special figures that were never sold in America! Now our display is still huge but inside so we can enjoy it all hours!
May You all have a very Blessed Christmas Season and Happy New Year!
Tags: Carnival of Genealogy, Christmas, famiglia, family, Holiday Spirit, Italy, Itri, memories, Presepi
This posting is supposed to be about other traditions such as those brought from overseas by ancestors. In our family’s instance, the tradition was brought to us by Valentino. He came from Italy where his family did not have Christmas trees until he was a teenager. Rather they used like most Italians a presepe display. Presepi are nativity sets but so much more than those we are used to here in the United States. Their displays are huge panoramas of Bethlehem! Interestingly these are often figures dressed in the garb native to the area where the owners live. For example, in Northern Italy it is not uncommon to see a more Bavarian look to figures. Napoli, where many famous and skilled artisans live and work often make the nativity figures to include famous persons. This year there are many versions of our President Obama being sold! But that is not the style Valentino grew up with!
His displays were something he and his brother would save their coins for all year long. During the Christmas season they would buy new figures to add to their growing display. He even remembers figures of Roman soldiers with swords holding a baby aloft! The first few years we set up our display, it was modest to his standards but my family loved it! By 1981 we had moved to Florida and purchased our first home. It was exciting to begin to build on our Christmas display. Valentino would set up a big sheet of plywood outside on our front porch area and he made a Bethlehem scene for our presepe. He covered the wood in sand and made ‘roads’ out of flour. He even had mountains he shaped out of chicken wire bases covered with brown burlap and stiffened with resin. We chose Fontanini figures for our nativity because of their classical Italian look and the fact they were virtually unbreakable. That was an important feature for our children’s sake! We began to fashion our own buildings too. Every evening we would take our own children outside and talk abo9ut the display with them, allowing them to touch and move figures. Soon we found neighbors and their children would come to look at our display too. Valentino would then each evening tell another part of the nativity story and share its meaning with the children. He would every day move the 3 kings closer to the stable where there was Mary and Joseph and animals – but no Babe. He would not be there be there until December 24th! That, too, is an Italian tradition. Valentino never caught his mother but she would somehow mysteriously manage to have the Babe appear in the manger each Christmas Eve without anyone seeing her!
Our display began to attract quite a bit of interest from friends and others over the years so we also made smaller version displays for our church. This too was something Valentino had experience with. His brother and several friends made a permanent display in Itri, Italy at the Sanctuario Madonna della Civita! That display is still there!
Once we moved to our current home, our display had grown too large and too valuable to leave outside. We began to make much more elaborate displays as finances allowed and we added more figures. We were most fortunate to travel to Bagna di Lucca to the Fontanini factory and we met several of the Fontanini family members. That wetted our appetites to grow our display! It became such a labor of love that we delight in sharing with neighbors, friends, coworkers each holiday season! We encouraged the tradition with our sons and each was gifted with their favorite style of Fontanini nativity sets also for when they are ready to begin their own family traditions!
Tags: Carnival of Genealogy, Christmas, famiglia, family, food, Holiday Spirit, Italy, Itri, love of family, memories, Presepi, recipes
Growing up in Italy, Valentino remembers the wonderful Christmases with his family. They kept the tradition of the 7 Fishes for Christmas dinner. They would all go to Midnight Mass together on Christmas Eve at the small church near his home. Only a few doors from their house, the family would all walk together. Christmas Day all the extended family would gather for a huge feast. Mama Concetta had spent hours cooking for everyone. Although the family was quite poor in Post WWII Italy in the early 1950s, he remembers the food at Christmas always seeming to fill the table to overflowing!
There would be the traditional fried smelts, small fish dipped in flour and fried. Then vinegar and garlic would be sautéed for a moment and poured warm over the smelts. Bacala (dried cod) was served along with big platters of steamed mussels. There would be fresh anchovies with basil and lemon, calamari in oil and fried, perhaps a white clam sauce over pasta. Naturally there would be huge bowls of Seafood Fra Diavolo.
We still try to keep this tradition for our family. Many times over the years we were not always able to afford all the fish varieties but we would spend time in the kitchen making the seven dishes with what we had. We live in Florida so our sons would go fishing and shrimping with their dad. They would also catch crabs so we would manage to save a nice assortment for the feast! When our finances began to improve we added stuffed lobster tails to our menu too!
Tags: Carnival of Genealogy, Christmas, famiglia, family, Holiday Spirit, Italy, love of family, Presepi
As a child I remember always going on wonderful drives with the whole family piled in the car to see the Christmas lights. Living in Connecticut, we usually had snow and it was always so beautiful to the multi=colored lights reflected on the snow! One of our homes shared a steep downhill driveway with the next door neighbor (my father’s business partner). They strung a great long set of Santa with his sleigh and reindeer across the driveway between the two houses. It was made of a vinyl or plastic that lit up. We loved that decoration! Unfortunately the older plastics did not last as long. The cold and the changes in temperature took their toll eventually.
When Valentino and I moved to Florida we wanted to keep that type of Christmas spirit alive. We covered our house in lights ala Clark Griswald in Christmas Vacation! Valentino grew up in Italy so the presepi was always important to him. He built a beautiful 8 foot display on our front porch for all the neighbors to come and see complete with a replica of Bethlehem. Each evening he would entertain the younger children with the Christmas story, moving the figures about the display – showing them how the kings traveled to Bethlehem to see The Babe! The figures were Fontanini and non-breakable so he would let the children touch! After all Christmas is for children! Within a couple years all the neighbors began a friendly competition with us putting out more and more elaborate displays of lights! Then about 15 years ago we moved to our current home. We began again to decorate the outside – both front and backyards! We lost our huge oak tree this year to lightning but in years past we strung lights all through the tree – I say we but it was my sons who would climb into the top branches to hang the lights!
Tags: Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, Carnival of Genealogy, Christmas, famiglia, family, Holiday Spirit, memories, Presepi
Every year we would write out Christmas Cards. My mother would hang them on windows or doors to show them off. A few times she also used a small mailbox to hold them but then they would be tucked inside so that wasn’t as much fun. Often she would stand them opened on cabinets to be seen too. She always was organized with lists that she had checked off who sent the year before or not. After all she was writing out a couple hundred to family, friends, neighbors, and dad’s clients and business associates too! When dad retired, the list shortened as it did as postage began the creep upwards in price.
I remember getting wonderful cards from my grandmother every year. She loved to write letters and send cards every chance she got so at Christmas she would send us each our own special cards. The tradition carried on as my children were born too. Over the years although I tried to save them, most were destroyed in floods from a hurricane!
Now each year I sit and write out my own cards, usually Thanksgiving weekend. Like my mother, I prefer to have them in the mail by the first of December – I figure they’re fun to enjoy all month that way! As I receive our cards, I have tape ready and hang them on a door for everyone to see and read and enjoy. They become part of our decorations!
My favorites are from friends that I haven’t seen in years but still gab with on the phone or write to semi-often. We have been friends since childhood and it is wonderful to reminisce together!
The two cards here are from a nephew and his family in Italy. I have saved them because he and the family are so precious to us! The yellow card is a fantastic one that plays a Christmas Carol when it is opened! The other is an elegant postcard with such a gorgeous picture.
Tags: Christmas, famiglia, family, Holiday Spirit, Nativity, Peace, Presepi
This year everything seemed to weigh heavier than normal. For the first time that I can remember, I had zero holiday spirit. The Holidays were always my favorite time of year – a family tradition passed down by my parents. My dad loved having huge family holidays and parties. Mom would bake for days – especially her famous yum yum cake – the only fruit cake I have ever enjoyed. Thanksgiving everyone would sit after dinner planning and plotting shopping for the next morning and then when finished marking all the advertising flyers, we would plot and plan our decorations and themes for the year. That was to ensure we bought anything we thought we might not have enough of!
Of course , Valentino has always insisted we have enough to decorate three houses and he is probably right — I inherited many of my grandmother’s decorations, gifts and excess from my mother, and added to it all with our own favorites. Decorating started on Friday, went into serious high gear on Saturday, and was finished by Sunday night after Thanksgiving. We rivaled every other home in our neighborhood because we decorated front and back yards as well as every room in the house including bathrooms! We had a family tree in the family room, a formal one in the living room, and small trees in each boy’s room, too. Dept.56 would be one huge display, a large nativity of 7 inch figures in the living room, and a 10 foot display in the family room of 5 inch figures including buildings and the Bethlehem village complete. Being Italian meant Valentino was in charge of the presepi display and it was awesome. We had a four foot tall mountain on one end of the display complete with working waterfall. Little flicker lights replicated the shepherd’s fires. and Bethlehem was a bustling market scene with all the kiosks such as butcher, fish monger, flower stall, basket shop, winery, rug seller, kings’ tents, and the creche up on the mountain. Then in 2005 we were hit by two hurricanes back to back that destroyed the base to the display and we have not yet completed quite as an elaborate one.
This year I have been working long hours at the local hospital, finishing my bachelor’s in business, and helping my mom while she was ill. Then the economy meltdown and the wickedness of the elections soured any remnants of joy for me. I certainly wasn’t feeling peaceful. But I forced myself to put up the trees and a smaller scaled back presepi on an 8 foot display. And then I set about cooking for family for Thanksgiving. But even that felt like a chore instead of the usual fun. I turned my CD player up full blast with our Italian Christmas carols and that seemed to lift the spirits a bit. Yet I was still struggling. That is until we were sitting around the table after dinner watching the children play. It was little Julianna that touched my heart. She was mesmerized by the presepi and wanted to know all about it so I stood showing her all the figures and the creche. At four years old, it is difficult to tell what she was understanding. I left her be to look and went to make espresso. Then her mom noticed her touching and was going to reprimand when I signaled to wait. I sneaked not too far away and took a photo to make ‘a memory’ for her for years from now. Mom was trying to tell her not to touch but just look – and then Julie answered her tearfully, “I wasn’t being naughty grandma – the Baby was cold! I fixed Him!” Precious Julie had taken the little bits of fabric from in front of the king’s tent to make a pillow and blankets of the satins and silk for the Baby in His manger! So it was Christmas Spirit arrived at our house right on time thanks to the heart of a child!