December 11th, 2014

Feasts of Natale – a traditional Italian Christmas

According to info received by Italy issued two stamps reflecting the religious and secular aspects of Christmas. The items were released on the 1st of December and are now available for purchasing.

One of the stamps is dedicated to secular aspects of Italian Christmas. The Christmas season in Italy goes for three weeks, starting 8 days before Christmas known as the Novena. During this period, children go from house to house reciting Christmas poems and singing.

In some parts shepherds bring musical instruments into the villages, play and sing Christmas songs.

In the week before Christmas children go from house to house dressed as shepherds, playing pipes, singing and reciting Christmas poems. They are given money to buy presents.

A strict feast is observed for 24 hours before Christmas Eve, and is followed by a celebration meal, in which a light Milanese cake called panettone features as well as chocolate.

Presents and empty boxes, are drawn from the Urn of Fate - lucky dip, which always contains one gift per person. By twilight, candles are lighted around the family crib known as the Presepio, prayers are said, and children recite poems.

At noon on Christmas Day the pope gives his blessing to crowds gathered in the huge Vatican square.

The €0.80 religious-themed stamp reproduces a 1586 painting by Agostino Carracci titled Madonna with Child and Saints, one of the many treasures of the National Gallery of Parma.

The painting shows Mary breast-feeding Jesus in the center and includes St. Cecilia at right, a young and chirpy St. John the Baptist at Mary's feet, a kneeling St. Margaret at left and St. Benedict standing at left.

Each saint is pictured with various symbols. For example, St. Cecilia is holding a martyrdom palm, has a book on her lap and a small portable organ at her feet.

St. Margaret is holding a cross to her chest and behind her is a dreadful drake in a menacing posture.

It is the presence of St. Margaret in the painting that provides a clue to the identification of the person who commissioned the painting: Margherita Farnese.

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