Papà Natale è brutto e cattivo Posted by Serena on Jan 1, 2009 in Culture
When I was eight years old a new girl came to my school. One day, talking with her about regali di Natale (Christmas presents) I discovered with great astonishment that her presents were brought not by Papà Natale (Father Christmas) but by Gesù Bambino (Baby Jesus).
I had never heard of such a thing, and so we started arguing about who it was that brought the presents, Papà Natale or Gesù Bambino? To settle the matter we decided to go and ask our parents and they gently explained to us that we were both right because Gesù Bambino cannot deliver all the presents by himself so he needs a helper, Papà Natale. My friend turned triumphantly to me and declared: “I’m more important than you! I get Gesù Bambino to bring my presents, not his helper!” to which I replied: “Yes, but at least I’ve seen Papà Natale several times and I know he’s real. You have never seen Gesù Bambino for real and will never see him, because solo i bambini molto buoni possono vedere Gesù Bambino (only the really good children can see Baby Jesus)”.
Talking of bambini molto buoni, the daughter of a friend of mine doesn’t like Papà Natale because, according to her, he is brutto e cattivo (ugly and bad). So this year she wrote a letter to Gesù Bambino asking him not to send Papà Natale to her, but to come personally because she is una bambina buona (a good girl).
Gesù Bambino or Papà Natale usually leaves the Christmas presents under the albero di Natale (Christmas tree) in the living room. In another corner of the room you will often find a Presepe (Nativity) with la stella cometa (the star) above la grotta (the grotto, usually called the stable in English Nativities), where Giuseppe e Maria (Joseph and Mary) kneel around the empty mangiatoia (the manger, from the verb mangiare, to eat). Gesù Bambino, following the tradition of the Nativity story, is only placed in the manger on Christmas night. The Presepe is deeply rooted in Italian tradition, the first one having been created in 1223 in Greccio, Umbria, by San Francesco d’Assisi (St. Francis of Assisi). The Christmas tree on the other hand has only become popular in recent years.
I biglietti di Natale (Christmas cards) are not a big thing in Italy, it’s more important to get in touch with people directly, either by visiting or phoning them, therefore we spend a big part of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning visiting friends and family or talking on the telephone. Cards are considered a substitute to personal contact, so I was very surprised on spending my first Christmas in England to see people handing each other Christmas cards.
La Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve) is probably more important than Christmas day here in Italy. We have la Cena di Natale (Christmas evening meal) with the family and we eat and drink while waiting for the Messa di mezzanotte (Midnight Mass). The following day we eat and drink again at the Pranzo di Natale (Christmas midday meal) with other members of the family often at somebody else’s house. For example: if the Vigilia di Natale is spent with the husband’s family, the Pranzo di Natale might be spent with the wife’s family, and so on. As for the menu, we don’t have a typical Christmas meal here in Italy, but rather many regional or even family traditional meals. This year for the first time I even heard of stuffed rabbit as the main course! Probably the only two traditional elements of the meal are the tortellini in brodo (tortellini in broth) for the first course, and Panettone with Spumante for dessert.
The arrival of the Panettone is the cue for young children to stand on a chair and recite la poesia di Natale (the Christmas poem). How well I remember the torment of that embarrassing experience!
After eating finchè non scoppiamo (until we explode) we go out for a stroll in the afternoon and then into a bar for a warming caffè or digestivo.
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