I’ll let you in on a little secret: in Italian families, the Christmas tree isn’t as much of a big deal as the nativity set is.
However, famiglia di Paige is only part Italian. The other part, my side, is British and in Britain, the Christmas tree is a big deal.
So much so that major streets in London are already turning on their Christmas lights and some stores are even putting up Christmas merchandise. It seems that they just can’t wait for Christmas to arrive.
Personally, I think it is too soon. I mean, I can’t have Halloween and Christmas aesthetics fighting for the same space now, can I?!
So yesterday, I asked the good ladies of the TCF tribe when is the earliest time that they put up their Christmas trees.
The responses were really interesting, to say the least, and it was so cool to see how traditions varied between Catholics in the USA and Catholics in Europe.
Overall, American Catholics admit to putting up their Christmas trees right after Thanksgiving, while most European Catholics tend to follow pre-Vatican 2 traditions and/or put theirs up around the 2nd Sunday of Advent.
Now, I was not born pre V2, but I do believe that my family for a very long time, before everyone grew up and left home, would put up decorations around the 3rd Sunday of Advent and the lights would go on on Christmas Eve.
Everything then came down around December 30 – something about not going into the New Year with stuff from the old? But I believe this was more of a cultural thing than a Catholic thing
My in-laws, however, are old-school Italians, so they retained more of the memories and traditions of Pre V2 Christmas, which is
- decorations going up around the 4th Sunday of Advent;
- the tree itself, which must be a REAL TREE, is collected a day or two before Christmas, and
- the crib of Jesus is left empty. Jesus is returned to the crib on Christmas day and the lights go on from Christmas day too.
Everything remains until after La Befana, which is roughly around Epiphany, in the first week of January.
The hubster and I came up with our own tradition, which is a mix of Catholic, British and Italian traditions, with our little take on things. This is what we do:
- THE TREE – Waiting until a few days before Christmas before getting a Christmas tree is a NO-NO. They WILL get sold out here, so our compromise is that we go hunting for the tree on the 3rd Sunday of Advent.
- The lady of the house, aka me, handpicks the tree, and the man of the house, aka him, buys it, cuts it down and carries it into the house, with all of us loudly applauding him for his strength, manhood and masculinity, and lots of cheers. Once the tree is up, he is rewarded to a good cup of Christmas cheer as befits the family patriarch. Lol.
- DECORATIONS – 3rd Sunday of Advent is also when the decorations go on, but the Christmas lights remain off.
- NATIVITY SET – About 3 days to Christmas, the nativity set or nativity village is set up, complete with the crib and baby Jesus in the crib.
- BABY JESUS – Early on December 24th, the youngest member of the family has to hide the baby Jesus to keep him safe from Herod’s soldiers.
- MIDNIGHT MASS – We have seafood on this night before heading out to midnight Mass. This is an Italian tradition and is a broth of various types of fish and seafood. When we return from Midnight Mass, the whole family then has to find baby Jesus. The child who finds him gets to return him to the crib and switch on the lights, to much cheers and jubilation. Any neighbours who didn’t already think we were a barking mad family, probably do at this point. Anyhoos, Christmas officially begins now.
- PRESENTS – There is no waiting to open Christmas presents in the morning. We open them now, after returning from Midnight Mass, restoring Jesus to the crib and switching on the lights. Nibbles at this time are typically mulled wine and mince pies, which is more of a British thing, or either panettone or pandoro, which is more Italian.
As it is Christmas, there is no set bedtime for the kids, so they go to bed whenever, but with all the excitement, I am yet to see them stay up beyond 3am!
The next day is a flurry of activities where I am finishing up the cooking, attending Mass (maybe), and receiving or visiting extended family members for traditional Christmas Dinner
The rest of Christmas Day pretty much follows a British pattern – usually British foods for breakfast and Christmas dinner, the Christmas hats and crackers, all the shebang!
The Christmas tree, decor, crib and lights all stay up until Epiphany.
Traditionally, they should stay up until the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord, which is on February 2nd and which marks the end of Christmastide, but
a) it coincides with my mother’s birthday, and
b) I got some really weird looks from neighbours when they saw that we still had our decor up in February. I just explain that hubby is Italian and they go, “Oohhh….” Lol.
So what we do instead is this. External decor and outdoor Christmas lights get taken down at Epiphany. The tree comes down around the end of January and the baby crib and baby Jesus is the last to go by February 2nd.
We might tweak these traditions in the future. Who knows? We’ll see!
Like I said earlier, the nativity set and the crib, NOT the tree, is the central focus of Italian Christmas traditions.
In Italy, it is not uncommon to see homes and street scenes with a rather simple Christmas tree or no Christmas tree at all, but a very elaborate nativity village and scene.
If you are interested in more Catholic Christmas and Christmastide traditions from the pre-V2 perspective, you may want to read THIS.
What about you? What are your Christmas traditions? How early do you put up your tree?
Are your Christmas traditions more culturally based, such as Americans putting their trees up after Thanksgiving?
Are they more based on Catholic traditions? Or are your Christmas traditions a mix of Catholicism and your local culture? Feel free to share.
Our Lady of the Expectation, pray for us!
ad Jesum per Mariam