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") PAGE 4 POST-GAZE'I-I'E, DECEMBER 16, 2016 L'Anno Bello: A Year in Italian Folklore The Origins of Christmas Traditions by Ally Di Censo Symynkywicz Lately, it seems as if the world around me can be defined in terms of fight--or, sometimes, lack thereof. When I wake up in the morning, a sky as black as a stormy sea greets me, send- ing me scuttling towards the comfort of a warm breakfast. During the day, the sun is low in the sky, gracefully sending golden spangles of light through the bare trees. The upcoming winter solstice, after all, serves as the darkest day of the year, when night wraps its cloak around the feeble sunlight of a short day. However, the winter solstice also marks the reharn of the sun, as after this date the sun will stay for a longer time in the sky. No wonder that so many midwinter festivities, from Christmas to Hanukkah to Kwanzaa, emphasize the theme of light! In preparation for the winter solstice on December 21st, I decided to pay atten- tion to origins of the Christmas symbols and customs that sur- round us. I found a fascinating tale of history and metaphor, of the yearning for light and eternal life. Below are a number of Christmas customs and their beginnings, in the context of both our Italian heritage and universal human nature: Pre-Christmas Holidays: Historians have identified sev- eral ancient feasts that served as symbolic precursors to the secular celebrations of Christ- mas. Our ancestors in Italy gathered for a wild weeklong festival known as Saturnalia starting on December 17th. This holiday honored Saturn, the god of agriculture and time. During Saturnalia, slaves and masters exchanged places, a harbinger of the misrule that characterizes Christmas, New Year and Epiphany traditions to this day. Ancient Romans also exchanged gifts on Saturnalia, a custom which has survived in the modern Christmas. Mean- while, the people of Northern Europe celebrated a holiday known as Yule. They adorned their homes with greenery as an example of etemal life in the midst of the dark winter and fit candles, not only for warmth, but to symbolize the return of the sun after the solstice. We still see greenery and candies in our contemporary Christmas decorations, and we still use the word Yule to describe the Christmas season! December 25th: In her com- prehensive book Encyclopedia of Christmas and New Year's Celebrations, author Tanya Gulevich outlines the fascinat- ing story of how Christr0as be- came associated with the date of December 25th. The earliest Christians did not celebrate Christmas. In fact, though Christmas gets more attention, Easter, which honors the Res- urrection of Christ, remains the most important holiday in the Church calendar. Christians were observing Epiphany, the day that the Three Kings vis- ited Baby Jesus, before they observed Christmas. The first mention of Christmas falling on December 25th occurs in a calendar from 336 A.D. In the year 350, the Pope officially declared December 25th as the date of the Nativity. Some scholars theorize that this date was chosen to bring a Christian perspective to winter solstice celebrations, as the birth of Jesus symbolically offered a return of fight in the world. Christmas Trees: Mention the word Christmas," and the first image that may pop into your mind is that of an illumi- nated, beautifully decorated ev- ergreen. Pagans long venerated trees in the winter. Evergreens were considered symbols for eternal life, as they persisted through the cold, barren win- ter. Romans even adorned their homes with greenery for the solstice celebration of Saturnalia. The Christmas ornaments hanging from the trees, meanwhile, may derive from the medieval practice of paradise plays. Performed around Christmas, these folk dramas recreated the Biblical tale of Adam and Eve. A tree fes- tooned with apples, symbolizing the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, formed the centerpiece of these plays. Christmas trees didn't "catch on in America until people caught wind of the fact that the fashionable Queen Victoria cel- Public Insurance Adjuster Since 1969 FOR ALL YOUR INSURANCE NEEDS AUTO * HOMEOWNERS * TENANTS COMMERCIAL Experience makes the difference 209 BROADWAY, REVERE, MA 02151 Tel. 781.284.1100 Fax 781.284.2200 Free Parking Adjacent to Building ebrated the holiday with a tree, a remnant of her German heri- tage. :The Christmas tree has spread to Italy as well, where it stands as a well-known holiday decoration and is known as l'albero di Natale. Holly and Mistletoe: Like the Christmas tree, holly speaks to the potent allegory of eternal life around the winter solstice. An evergreen plant, holly was worshipped during the winter by European pagans. It ac- quired a Christian perspective in the Middle Ages, when its leaves came to symbolize Je- sus's thorny crown and the red berries, his blood. Meanwhile, mistletoe, a plant sacred to the Celts, also became equated with rebirth due to its status as an evergreen. The custom of kiss- ing under the mistletoe may derive from ancient Scandina- via, where mistletoe served as emblems of peace. According to tradition, enemies who passed each other under a mistletoe branch had to lay down their arms and call a truce. In Italy, holly is known as agrifoglio and decorates homes for Christmas and New Year's. Misteltoe, or vischio in Italian, holds a special place in the country's culture because it was the fabled "Gold- en Bough" the mythological figure Aeneas needed in order to placate the gods during his journey into the underworld. Yule Log: There is nothing like a warm, crackling log on the fire to conjure images of a cozy, joyous holiday. However, the yule log's origins are en- shrouded in mystery. Ostensi- bly it derives from the Germanic Yule celebrations, the feast celebrating the winter solstice in which greenery and fire were brought indoors to form a literal and symbolic barrier against the cold air. Yule log traditions vary across the world. The English hold a plethora of su- perstitions around the Yule log, such as one which states that bad luck will follow if the Yule log is extinguished before the night, or that the log contains healing properties. The French eat buche de Noel, or a sponge cake shaped like a log, during their Christmas Eve dinner. In Italy, the Yule log is called il ceppo di Natale and is blessed with prayers and songs. The Christmas traditions which surround us burst with rich symbolism and complex spiritual significance. They remind us of the comfort and joy which characterizes the holidays, and link us to the universal hopes and desires of our ancestors. These customs tell us that though the nights around the solstice appear dark and gray, the love of fam- ily and of our shared humanity ignites the most brilliant light of all. This season, be sure to view the ubiquitous symbols of Christmas with new eyes, and spread the love of the holidays to all you encounter! Ally Di Censo Symynkywicz is a Graduate Student in History at the University of Massachu- setts Boston. She appreciates any comments and suggestions about Italian holidays and folk- lore at adicenso89@grnall.com. by Sal Giarratani Reflections On A Life Well Worth Living I don't like sounding like one of those televangefists I spot on TV while flipping through the channels. Many of them are gloom-and-doomers, and others sound like used car salesmen. Most of the time, they mostly want to separate your money from your wallets. However, recently, I heard a preacher talk about always be- ing ready to meet God. There's a parable I heard at Sunday Mass recently about the property owner who gets robbed and the parable says ff the owner knew when the crooks were coming, he would be ready for them. In the sudden passing of a friend of mine, Brian Mahoney, who had been the editor-in- chief of South Boston Today, I remembered that parable. None of us knows the day we will be called home to God. It just hap- pens when it happens. The end came quick but, in Brian's case, he just rived his life not worrying about dying. He was involved in riving and doing. All of us five our fives differ- ently, but in the same way. Bri- an had a mission in life to be a good person and to be involved in life around him. Some people live in a community. Others five their fives for the betterment of their community. Brian wasn't just awake and walking around, he was awake and trying to make his community the best place it could be. That is the dif- ference in residing somewhere and living somewhere. Brian was a great community activist and there aren't enough activists out there. These folks are a special breed. Without them, a community could not grow and prosper. He had a gift for writing and used it wisely and often. He did not waste this gift. Now, he has gone. His journey among us has ended. He completed that race that Saint Paul spoke of in his writings. Our journey continues on without him, but not without his memory. All of us have tal- ents and gifts. Many use them. Others waste them. We need to use them in our fives. Time passes, but the journey continues. We should never stop doing our best until they start throwing dirt on us. We get one life to live. If we use it wisely, all the bruises and losses we take will have been worth it if we five our lives with laughter and good work. Brian did that and more. Our time is now and we need to do the right thing always. We cannot and should not live- in the shadows. Stand up and be you. Make this life we have count for something good. I have always tried to stand up and do things that count. Make my community, my city, my state, my country and my world better. If I see something wrong, I stand up and take it on. Sometimes I use my feet, sometimes through writing. Isn't that what we remember about Brian? He took his stands every day and tried to improve the fives of people around him. Rest in peace, Brian. Your job has ended but, for the rest of us, the struggle continues. N 5 PRINCE STREET * NORTH END * BOSTON, MA 02113 Quality Printing for all your Commercial and Personal Needs I Stationery * Business Cards * Menus* Flyers ] Program Books * Wedding and Party Invitations I ~ouncemen~ * Business Forms and Documents COMPETITIVE PRICES m