Italian Christmas Traditions with Tomie dePaola

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My Christmas traditions come from my Norwegian family roots. But my husband is Italian and spent his childhood in Rome. So our family celebrates a blending of both traditions with many other influences sprinkled throughout. After all, we are citizens of the world!

As parents one of our favorite books to read at Christmas time is Tomie dePaola’s book, Strega Nona’s Gift. This delightful story takes dePaola’s cast of characters — and if you don’t know the Strega Nona books, you should! — through the various feasts and celebrations of the Advent and Christmas seasons, highlighting the Italian foods and traditions. Even the animals of the little village in Calabria have a special feast — and, of course, Big Anthony makes a mess as usual. Merry Christmas, Strega Nona offers another glimpse into an Italian Christmas, but this time it is all about the Christmas Eve feast and giving a gift to a woman who serves others in their town.

The Legend of Old Befana tells of one of Italy’s unique holiday traditions. Befana, an old woman or perhaps a witch, misses her chance to follow the Wise Men to meet Baby Jesus. So each night on January 5 — the eve of the Feast of Epifania (January 6), she visits the homes of Italy’s children, looking for the Christ Child, and leaving behind a token of love. The Legend of Old Befana presents this story beautifully, and it should be paired with The Story of the Three Wise Kings. This book is out of print on its own, but it is part of the collection, Joy to the World, which also contains two beautiful stories from the Mexican Christmas tradition: The Night of Las Posadas and The Legend of the Poinsettia.