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Revisiting The World Showcase And The Customs Of Christmas: Italy

Revisiting The World Showcase And The Customs Of Christmas: Italy

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Christmas around Epcot’s World Showcase will look different this year as there will be no Storytellers. Follow along on my adventures as I share with you how each country in Epcot’s World Showcase celebrates Christmas while looking back at the storytellers of years past. Today we focus on the Italy Pavilion!

Christmas Traditions at Epcot

One of my favorite traditions while visiting Epcot around the holidays is for me and my youngest daughter to visit each and every Storyteller’s event during our trip to Epcot.

As a Sociologist, who teaches and studies culture, it makes my heart so happy to be able to partake in learning and participating in the vast array of Christmas traditions that countries practice around the world.

So far in our 12 part series, we have already visited the holiday customs and traditions from Canada, the United KingdomFranceMorocco and Japan. Today, we continue our adventures to one of my favorite countries that I love to visit. La Bella Italia – The beautiful Italy!

We will save The American Adventure for Christmas week!

Celebrating Christmas in Italy

Courtesy of Adriano Castelli Shutterstock

The Christmas season begins on the 8th of December. Italy celebrates the feast day known as the Day of the Immaculate Conception which is celebrated in the Catholic Church. This is the first day that decorations go up in homes around the country.

Although Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December, celebrations begin eight days prior.

This period is known as the Novena. It is eight days where children dress up as shepherds. The days are filled with carolers singing traditional songs around the neighborhood.

Additionally, it is also the time where families attend church services and prayers are recited. The ninth day of the Novena ends on Christmas Day.

Courtesy of

Santa Claus is known to children as Babbo Natale. (Father Christmas) He is known to bring gifts on Christmas Eve. However, in Italy, the main day for gift giving is the Epiphany which is celebrated on the 6th of January.

It is usually La Befana who brings gifts to the children. More on her when we learn about the Storyteller in the Italy Pavilion!

Traditionally in other parts of the country in Italy, Santa Lucia and/or Baby Jesus also bring children’s gifts for the Epiphany.

Nativity Scenes

My father’s annual Nativity Scene.

The nativity scene, which is one of the most important symbols of Christmas, was invented by the Italians. Saint Francis of Assisi first created the first nativity scene in 1223.

St. Francis received permission from Pope Honorious III to set up a manger with hay accompanied by two live animals-an ox and a donkey inside a cave in the Italian village of Grecio.

My father’s Nativity from 2012.

Villagers were invited to come and hear him preach about the Baby Jesus while gazing upon the live scene.

Centuries later, nativity scenes became popular and spread throughout Europe.

Close up of the Holy Family

Families set up their nativity scene. However, they leave out Baby Jesus because he is not placed into the manager until the 25th of December.

Traditional Foods

Courtesy of Shutterstock

Traditionally, no food is consumed until after Midnight Mass. A very popular tradition is known as The Feast of the Seven Fishes. “Esta dei Sette Pesci.” The customary tradition derives from the South of Italy.

Common types of fish eaten in the feast include Baccala (salted Cod), Clams, Calamari, Sardines and Eel.

The traditional dessert includes the well known Christmas cake “Panettone”. It has the consistency of a dry fruity sponge cake.

If you are interested in trying one for yourself I’d suggest you buying a mini version from Trader Joes. One of the choices is even gluten free!

We savored ours last night. It goes really well with a cup of coffee!

Epcot Storyteller-La Befana

Courtesy of

La Befana is depicted in various ways. She can be a fairy queen, a crone, or a witch. She is the one that brings gifts for good children and a punishment for the bad children.

Courtesy of

At the World Showcase in Epcot, La Befana is portrayed as a good witch. La Befana translates to “gift giver.”

She flies on a broomstick as she delivers presents to good children for the Epiphany.

Her story begins in her lonely cottage as three well dressed men in a caravan approached her. The only word she understood was the word “Bethlehem.”

The three wise men go on to tell La Befana that they are following the star where a great King has been born in Bethlehem.

Celebrating the Epiphany at California Adventures

La Befana understands as she has seen the bright star and the men ask her to join them on their voyage. However, she does not go.

A couple of days later a young shepherd boy approaches La Befana. He asks her why she has not gone into Bethlehem to see the new born King who is said to be the Son of God.

Courtesy of Getty Images

The sky then opened up and the sound of the air was filled with angels singing. La Befana knew that she needed to visit Bethlehem and to arrive with a special gift for the bambino.

As she goes inside her cottage she finds a rag doll that she has made. However, when she goes outside she learns that the star is gone.

Courtesy of Painting by James Lewicki, from “The Golden Book of Christmas Tales” 1956

For the last 2000 years, La Befana goes out on the night of the Epiphany the very night that the three Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem. She climbs into chimneys looking for the Christ Child.

I look into the FACES of the children and I think to myself…what if it is you…what if you are the Christ child? And then just in case I have looked into the face of the bambino Jesus himself, I leave a little gift.

Bella a destra? Beautiful, right?

La Befana is certainly one of my favorite storytellers during the holiday season at the World Showcase in Epcot.

Our Storyteller Adventure Continues

For our next adventure series, we will be visiting Germany. We will continue to learn the various traditions and customs that are practiced during the holidays throughout Epcot’s World Showcase.

I hope you join me on our next adventure! Buon Natale (Merry Christmas!)

Did you learn any new traditions that are practiced in Italy during the holiday season? Do you remember watching La Befana? Let us know in the comments on Facebook and in our Facebook group.

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