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Memories of Italian Christmases

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Santo Natale

Contributed by Remo Callara [Xmas Eve 2001]
In questo giorno Santo
Grazie per risponder al pianto
Di una povera anima dolente
Che Ti chiese aiuto e guida
Per vincere sta gran sfida.

In questo giorno Santo.
Grazie per la Tua bontà,
Che il mondo conosce gia,
Per la tua Misericordia
Dove luce la Tua gloria.

In questo giorno Santo
È Natale mio Signore,
Grazie per il tuo Amore
E per ridonarmi il cuore,
E della vita il calore

[English translation]
On Your holy day
We thank You for answering our plea
Of a poor and suffering soul
You guided me through peril
That no man can face alone

On Your holy day
We thank You for your goodness
Which binds men in lands unknown
Your mercy is the strength
That allows peace in our homes

On Your holy day
We thank You for Your love
Which sparks the beating of our hearts
You restored my body to me.
And brought meaning to my life

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Natale in Castelguidone

[Contributed by Rachele Lozzi]

I have a Holiday and Christmas Story that my Grandmother Rachele Ficca D'amario would tell me about Christmas in her hamlet of Castelguidone which I would like to share. She told me that it was a tradition to make dolls from corn husks ---- the dolls looking similar to each one of her four children. The doll and an orange or apple would be placed by the fireplace for the children to find on Christmas morning.

On Christmas Eve they would go to midnight mass and walk home singing Christmas songs like "Tu Scende delle Stelle". (She would always sing this song starting before Christmas, while we would be preparing for the holiday in our home in Brooklyn ). They would bake biscotti. Some years, depending on their finances, they would have a seafood dinner ---- the seafood being purchased from the vendor who came from Vasto every Wednesday.

On New Year's Eve there would be a giant bonfire lit in the piazza to ring in the new year. She would tell me these stories accompanied by her version of the Christmas story of the Baby Jesus' birth complete with dialogue and sound effects down to the braying of the donkey carring the Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph, the knocking on doors looking for refuge, the rustling of the hay where they finally found shelter and the Jesus was born...She was able to play the Angels speaking to the shepards telling them of the news---A great ONE PERSON SHOW.

These are memories I have passed down to my children and grandchildren to keep this precious history alive. These stories and the life we led growing up in Brooklyn in the 40's and 50's contribute to the courage I have acquired to accomplish my own life.

A BLESSED CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL and A WISH FOR A NEW YEAR AND NEW MILLENIUIM FILLED WITH PEACE AND JOY.

Rachele Lozzi

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Pizzelles

[contributed by Emilie Sabatini Higgins]

Rachel, your memory about your grandmother's traditions was somewhat like mine and you made note of some very interesting things and brought me back to some endearing memories of Christmas. Though we did not have too much of the material things we had plenty of love, food and the reason we celebrate the birth of Christ.

Today I went looking for Biscotti (you mentioned them) and since I could not find them I decided to make my own. I always make pizzelles and give them to my family, friends and neighbors. Now if they don't get them people ask for them. My family eats them as if they were potato chips.
Wishing you all good things for the coming year and of course a very happy Christmas

Emilie

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Natale in Pianola

[contributed by C.Tudico]

Every year at Pianola (AQ), a small village at 3 km from L'Aquila, at six p.m. on 25 December an impressive living nativity is repeated. The event, which began in 1793, is called «Come a Bethlem» (Like in Bethlehem) and is a theatrical representation of the birth of Christ. The scenery, complete with a Palestinian village of 2,000 years ago in all details, is created in a wonderful natural amphitheatre. Over 300 characters in medieval costumes reproduce the biblical story that led to the birth of Jesus: the creation of man, the original sin, the commandments, the exodus, the Visitation and the Nativity.

There is also a musical background to give more pathos to the performance. Year after year this live nativity has attracted more and more people in search of a more authentic way to celebrate Christmas, away from the excesses of the consumer's society. There is also a twinship with the living crib in Crecchio, Umbria, which was the first to be established by San Francesco d'Assisi

Carla T.

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Natale in Montorio

[Contributed by Elizabeth Lester, Modesto CA United States]

My mother is from Montorio al Vomano and my childhood was filled with folklore about that area.
Mom said that they really celebrated the gift giving on the Epiphany, January 6. The Befana was the Italian Santa. The child that was not well behaved might have coal put in his Christmas stocking.

Heading the Christmas Eve menu was baccalà. The coveted pastry in the Abruzzi area was caucenetti. Some of the ingredients in the filling of this delicious item were chocolate, chic peas (garbanzo), lemon, honey and rum. These were made into a delicious paste, and this was the center of a rolled out pastry dough whose ingredients included wine, olive oil and flour. Individual turnover like pastries were made. They were then fried, cooled and dusted with powdered sugar. To die for, they were so good. Cookies were also made that were very hard and conveniently shaped so that they could be dunked in wine.

What a heritage, I am so grateful. Thanks for this wonderful site.
Buon Natale a tutti gli Abruzzesi

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Natale in Navelli

[contributed by Mario Carmine Bonifacio, Canada]

I was born in the town of Navelli, province of Aquila in 1938. Consequently, my earliest memories are those of wartime, strife and hardships until our emigration to Canada in 1948.

Among my earliest memories however, I distinctly remember that Christmas was essentially a religious holiday and thus observed. January 6th (old Christmas) on the other hand is remembered as the time when the Befana (the old woman) distributed gifts. To this day, I have not been able to find out the Befana's origin, but again, I distinctly remember that the gifts were simple and scarce. In my case, an orange or two, other dried fruits and nuts and perhaps a personal item such as a hanky were priceless gifts at that time. Of course, no self respecting boy would pass this period without receiving one or several lumps of coals, to remind them that they had not always been angelic throughout the year.

I have no siblings, but I still have relatives in Navelli. Unfortunately, all my grandparents are dead, my mother died of leukemia and my father is quite old now and I left home at a rather young age so I missed out on learning much of the family history and background. The family names were D'ATTILIO and BONIFACIO on my mother and father's side respectively.

I would appreciate hearing from anyone, anywhere, who knows something about the families. Thank you!

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Natale in Chicago

[contributed by Vincent Mancini, Key West]

Hello to all. I remember that when my sister and I were very small in Chicago, we would hang our stocking on the clothes line in the kitchen - for Chicago was VERY cold in the late 30s and early 40s in Dec. for St. Nicholas Day.

We would get an orange or tangerine, hard candy, nuts in the shell and a toy. One year there was coal in a stocking and I thought it was for my sister, but she was always good, but I cried for her anyway. I found out it was for me and I cried harder. I miss those simple and beautiful times.

Vincent Mancini

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POLENTA STORIES

[extracts from the Abruzzo Heritage Maildigest]

AAAAAahhhh polenta - such sweet memories!!! My father slaves over the stove cooking it very carefully to make sure it's perfect with no clumps. I still go over for dinner when he makes it, usually in the winter. We don't eat it on a board or anything but he tells me that's what they used to do back in Pietracamela, Teramo were he was born. I miss Abruzzo very much, haven't been since '91. I enjoy reading everyone's stories and great info about different sites.

Elda Giardetti

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My parents were born in Sulmona P.Aquila. And I will always remember the lovely stories they would tell us about growing up in the little town. And yes, even here in Melbourne Australia, we still eat (every now and then!) polenta on "la spianature" just like they did way back when.

Rosanna

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I remember my grandfather serving up Polenta on Ash Wednesday Eve, or Fat Tuesday, He and My Grandmother would cover the dining table with these large serving boards and the Whole Family would gather there, Aunts Uncles, cousins, about 25 in all, they would top it with tomato sause and all kinds of meat. everyone would tunnel their way to the middle of the table. They all were from the Ortucchio, Avezzano, province of L'Aquila, Abruzzo.

Richard Chiarilli

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I enjoyed the polenta on the table. As i was growing up my mother would put it on big platters and we would all have to share with each other. Being the youngest I always had the pleasure of sharing with my dad. It was always a race to see who got to the middle of their platters first. The losers had to do the dishes that night. What wonderful memories this website brings back when i tell other italian friends how we ate it in our home they never heard of it. I am glad to know that the sharing and racing was part of my mother and fathers memories that they brouht with them to america.

Judy Liva

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I remember my Father serving polenta on a big platter which we all ate from on occasion. He used to say something like we were sharing food together or family togetherness.. I can't really remember, but it was a very special time My Father's parents and oldest brother came here from Lettomanopello, His name was Frank Toppa, but I have found out after talking to relatives, it was really Toppi.. I have found many people with that surname in the white pages for that town He also used to make a pasta in which he took little pieces of dough and using his thumb shaped them something like a shell. I thought he called them gnocchi but what I see by that name is different. I always look forward to my email from listbot, it brings back a lot of memories.

Frances (Toppa) Moy

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my father Domenic Dandrea was born in villa santa lucia. We had a large family- fifteen in all. My father would cook polenta. It was a yellow corn meal. Very simple, but delicous. He cooked it in a large pot. It was served as though it was a pudding. he didnt use dishes. It was served on top ot the table, he indented the center of the serving and added sauce and a little piece of meat. When we finished eating all he had to do was wipe the table clean. And we were happy for that meal. This was our "happy meal"

lou dandrea

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Polenta! We called it "pooland," and my dad spent what seemed like hours on a Sunday, carefully, slowly, pouring the watered cornmeal into the boiling water so there would be no lumps. The firmed "pooland" was spread on a board and rolled out with what looked like a windowshade roller, then Mom made grooves along the sides and they poured the sausage-based tomato sauce on top. A little Parmesan cheese, and nothing was so delicious! Wonder what our rural Ohio neighbors would have thought...

Emily Webster Love





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