It wasn’t long before the newly converted began celebrating their old holidays, often times in secret.The Church figured this out and thought, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” Luckily, Easter fell around the time of the spring equinox, another time of pagan ceremonies and celebrations.In ancient Rome, honey was offered at this time of year so that the new year might be sweet.On Christmas Eve, Italian children set out their shoes for the female Santa Claus, La Befana, to fill with gifts of all kinds like toys, candies and fruit.Ahhh, thought the Church, if we incorporate some of the least objectionable pagan rites into our Easter celebrations, the converts will enjoy it more and quit celebrating the equinox.That’s why you see so many fertility symbols such as rabbits and eggs at Easter.
They descend from the mountains of the Abruzzo and Latium playing inviting and characteristic tunes on their bagpipes, filling the air with anticipation for the joyous celebration to come.
Christmas, as it is celebrated in Italy, has two origins: the familiar traditions of Christianity blended with the pagan traditions predating the Christmas era.
The greatest feast of the ancient Roman Empire, "Saturnalia" (a winter solstice celebration), just happens to coincide with the Christmas celebrations of the Advent.
North of Rome a traditional dish may be pork, sausage packed in a pig's leg, smothered in lentils, or turkey stuffed with chestnuts.
Common throughout Italy are the Christmas sweets: "panettone" (cake filled with candied fruit), "torrone" (nougat) and "panforte" (gingerbread) made with hazelnuts, honey and almonds.