L’albero di Natale, my Christmas tree is now up and decorated. I usually have it all done by now, but I am behind this year. It was not planned, but I did the Italian thing this year! December 8th is l’Immacolata Concezione, the festa celebrating the conception of the Vergine Maria. It is a national holiday in Italia and the official start of le feste Natalizie-the Christmas season. It is also the day most Italiani put up and decorate their albero di Natale and presepio. The Christmas decorations-addobbi Natalizie stay up until January 6th, la festa del Epifania-after a visit from La Befana. Earlybirds decorate on December 6th the festa di San Nicola.L’albero di Natale is long standing tradition in Northern European countries, but a much newer custom in Italia. Alberi sempervivi-evergreen trees, have symbolized life, regeneration and immortality. The Celts, Vikings and pre-Christian Germanic tribes decorated evergreens during Solstice celebrations. In the harsh northern winters evergreen trees, holly and mistletoe were the only things that stayed green, so they were thought to have magical powers. Wreaths and evergreen branches were hung over doors as a defense against evil spirits and a symbolic defense against the harsh winter. I can totally relate to this last one. My addobbi Natalizie help me get through the winter! ‘Modern’ use of l’albero di Natale started in the 13th Century and became a custom in Northern Europe. In Southern Europe, it was seen as more of a Protestant custom and did not catch on. In 1848, when Prince Albert of Germany married Queen Victoria, he brought the Christmas tree custom with him, which spread through the British Empire.
Regina Margherita di Savoia-yes she of pizza fame-was the first to decorate un albero di Natale in Italia in the late 1800’s at the Palazzo Quirinale. The custom spread slowly, but grew in popularity after WWII. In 1982, Pope Giovanni Paolo II first introduced a tree in Piazza San Pietro. Now most families have un albero di Natale, and the presepio is often placed under the tree. Is your albero di Natale up yet? Buon Natale, Cristina