December 8th is a national holiday in Italy, the Festa dell’immacolata, or the Feast of the immaculate conception. It also often marks the start of the holiday season for many Italians. Florence lights up their large Christmas tree on this day, as well as the life size nativity set in Piazza del Duomo.
The feast of the immaculate conception celebrates the day the Virgin Mary was conceived. A little backstory for you…According to the catholic church Mary’s mother Anne, was impregnated by God and therefore, the Virgin Mary did not bear the original sin at her birth, thus making her fit to be the future vessel of the son of God, Jesus. Although it may seem common knowledge now, This church doctrine was very controversial, especially in the 1500’s with some flatout saying that the entire story was just an invention of an overzealous Pope.
In 1854, after centuries of controversy, Pope Pio the 9th put an end to the debate and declared Dec. 8 an official holiday. From that moment, all over Italy, Italians began to mark the start of the Christmas season with this special day. In fact, many families don’t decorate their Christmas tree or put out their nativity scenes (il presepe in Italian) until the 8th of December. Since it’s a national holiday, almost everyone is off work, so people are free to decorate their homes.
Today, some cities, such as those in the south chose to start the Christmas season a few days early, on Dec. 6 which is the patron st. day of St. Nicolas. In Milan instead, they begin the holiday season on Dec. 7 which is the day of their Patron, St. Ambrogio.
If you’ve ever been in Italy at this time of year, it’s truly magical. I look forward to the lighting of the tree in Piazza del Duomo every year and Dec. 8 is always a fun day spent at home, decorated and drinking mulled wine.
A presto ragazzi!