As we say farewell to Christmas in Israel, we travel Northeast to Italy, just 2,317km away. Italy has a population of around 60 million with approx. a sixth of the population living in the Northern region of Lombardy.
Sticking out into the Mediterranean Sea, the well recognised boot-shaped country covers an area of 301,340 square km and a coastline that is around 7,500km in length. Almost four fifths of the land is mountains or hills.
University of Bologna was founded in 1088 and is the oldest university in Europe and as it's been in use the whole time. the oldest in the world.
If you're a car lover, you need to visit Italy just to see the police cars - they have several Lamborghinis in use by the police force - I certainly spotted one on a trip to Rome a few years ago!
So, how do they celebrate Christmas in Italy?
Christmas is celebrated on 25th December in Italy with festivities continued until Epiphany on 6th January.
Around 71% of the Italian population follow Christianity with Roman Catholic being the most dominant of those religions - not much of a surprise with the Vatican City being located in the centre of Rome.
A Nativity scene can be found in most homes from 8th December onwards which helps to tell the Christmas story, and the baby Jesus is only added to the scene on the night of Christmas Eve. Naples makes famous Christmas Nativity scenes and these can be multi-layered pyramid shapes decorated with colour paper, gold painted pinecones, and small candles. They may also have a star hung on the top and fruit, presents and candy on the upper tiers. Naples scenes also tend to have extra figurines that aren’t normally found in nativity scenes such as houses, waterfalls, food, different animals, and even famous people. The largest Nativity scene in the world is in Naples with over 600 objects in it.
Children usually go carol singing and shepherd pipe playing, while dressed in shepherd's sandals and hats. Many people will go to Midnight Mass. Eight days before Christmas is when celebrations technically begin with special ‘Novenas’ (series of prayers) and church services. ‘Babbo Natale’ (Santa Claus) may bring some small presents for children on Christmas Eve, however the main gift giving happens on Epiphany when children leave their stockings by the fire place for Befana (a magical old lady) or the Three Kings to fill.
Most people won’t eat meat, and sometimes dairy, on Christmas Eve, instead a light seafood meal is popular before going to midnight mass. Popular foods to eat in this meal are; Baccala (salted Cod), Clams, Calamari, Sardines and Eel. After Mass, people tend to have a hot chocolate with some ‘Panettone’ (Italian Christmas Cake) which is a fruity sponge cake.
Our next destination looks at Christmas celebrations in Jamaica.