On Witches and Socks

According to a Christian legend, while the Three Wise Men were on their way to Bethlehem to bring gifts to the Infant Jesus, they bumped into a very old woman and asked her if she knew were the Son of God was, as they seemed to be quite disoriented. Unfortunately she didn’t know. Nevertheless, she offered them accommodation for a night, after all, she was the best housekeeper in the village, with the most comfortable home. The following day, the Three Magi tried to convince the old lady to join them to the visit to the baby Jesus, but despite their insistence, she refused, as did not feel like leaving the house, she was too busy with her housework after all.

Yet, very soon she repented for not having gone with them. She quickly prepared a basket of sweets and left the house in search for the Three Wise Men, but in vain. She stopped at every house she found along the way, giving candies to the children she met, in the hope that one of them was the baby Jesus. Since then, she goes around the world, giving presents to all children, so that she might be forgiven.The good ones will have toys, candies or fruit, while the bad ones get only coal, onions or garlic. That’s why it is tradition here in Italy to leave empty socks next to beds of children the night of the Epiphany, so that the old lady, that is actually called Befana, may fill them with presents. Befana’s iconography is a little scary, however, as she wears a dark and wide skirt, an apron with pockets, a shawl, a handkerchief or broad black hat on his head, a pair of worn slippers, all enlivened by numerous colored patches and she travels around the world flying on a broom.

🤔🤔🤔

Wait, wait, wait, but if Jesus was not born on Christmas day, even the date of his revelation to the Magi cannot be that certain. Why was it fixed on the 6th of January? Even in this case a Christian tradition actually overlapped a pagan one. We have go back to Roman Mithraic rites, again. If you remember, we have already stated that originally on the 25 th of December the winter solstice was celebrated along with Mithras, the Sol Invictus. On the twelfth night after the winter solstice, that is the day of the Epiphany, the death and rebirth of nature through Mother Nature was solemnized. But why after 12 days? Because the twelve days represented the twelve months of the years, therefore, the entire natural cycle. It seems that on those days, female figures flew over the cultivated fields, to propitiate the fertility of future crops, hence the myth of the “flying” figure, the so-called Befana.

Now, I cannot but go and look for a capacious sock, and advice you to do the same, you’ll never know.😜

“The Befana comes by night
With her shoes all tattered and torn
She comes dressed in the Roman way
Long live the Befana!”

 

 

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Christmas Musings

It’s over. I’m here, stranded on my sofa, unable to move, only my brain keeps on working on some lines that keep on echoing in my mind  : ” my heart ( but also head, stomach….I would add) aches and a drowsy numbness pains my sense as though ……”a ton of carbs I had swallowed.😩Well, this is not the faithful reproduction of the poem, but I have got the feeling that Keats must have been thus inspired after having attended some Christmas family parties. However, after these three days of masochistic food marathon, I cannot help but wonder: what is this Christmas spirit about? What is it that we long for, as soon as Autumn sweeps away the summer sparkle? After a long pondering 🤔, I have come to the conclusion that the Christmas spirit has nothing to do with religion, births of Saviors, renewed feelings of empathy for humankind etc.; Christmas is all about the wonder of lights and food. It has always been so.

For example, before the fourth century A.D., the 25th of December was very popular even among the Romans, only that it was Mithras, originally a Persian deity who was said to be either the son of the sun or the companion of the sun, the one to be celebrated. At that time, the 25th of December was considered the winter solstice, that is, the moment when days begin to lengthen and the power of the sun to increase, hence, the fittest day to celebrate the son of the sun. Of course, the best way to glorify such a god was to kindle lights everywhere in token of festivity. When the doctors of the Church perceived that this celebration was becoming dangerously popular even among the Christians, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnized on that day. That’s why we keep on lighting our towns and houses after so many centuries: in memory of the god of the sun!

Therefore, the popularity of those rituals stands in the power of light, rather than the name of the god it was meant to be honoured. Light is the symbol of life over death, fertility, joy and Christmas illuminations and decorations, wherever we live, make us arouse an instinctive sense of childish wonder, as if for a while all that light had the power to hide the ugliness of the world. It is that illusion that we long for.

The other question is: why do we feel compelled to overeat during Christmas holidays? Maybe, there are anthropological reasons, as it is now winter and we have to store fat for the long cold season. Some of you who might be reading this post in warmer climates might object this point, of course, hence, I would like to remind you that, first of all, we live in time of globalization and that if you are celebrating Christmas, it is because some European soldiers and monks settled in your lands centuries ago exterminating the people who had inhabited them bringing the traditions of their cold mother countries…….. in the name of the Savior, of course.

 

“Spelacchio”, a Farewell.

It is now official: “Spelacchio” is dead. He couldn’t make it for Christmas, and now it has become a long, slender, bare, dry , lifeless tree dressed up with lights and balls which, let me say,  make  “Spelacchio” even more pathetic, if possible. What did it kill it ? Well, it seems it was the cool wind from the North which has blown over the capital for a couple of days – I have to say that it has been unusually cold these days here – that stroke the last mortal blow. Strange indeed, however, as firs don’t grow at tropical latitudes as far as I know, unless this one was of a peculiar kind.

However, if “Spelacchio” aimed at becoming a celeb, somehow it did it, even if for the wrong reasons. Lots of articles from all over the world have narrated its slow agony, and if “Spelacchio” (mangy) has sounded so pejorative, a newspaper from Moscow , Russia Today, has even been less genteel defining it “toiled brush“. Even the “Ghana News Agency” had something to say about it with an article entitled: “No Christmas Joy in Rome“.

However, the reason why this story has enraged all Roman citizens lies in its symbolism. “Spelacchio” represents, in fact, “the eternal city’s eternal decay” as The Guardian defined it. And there is no sign of any improvement. The capital has been in a state of chronic stagnation since Virginia Raggi, the bright star of the anti-establishment 5-star movement, has become Mayor of Rome. The streets are full of pot holes, there are piles of garbage everywhere, public gardens are often unkempt with weeds that grow as tall as a person. Even the Pope himself has decried the state of the city in a public celebration before the Mayor. Words unheard, of course.

So, farewell “Spelacchio”. I am sorry we have not been more welcoming with you, but try to understand us if you can. You were to be that ephemeral beauty, that sparkling illusion that lasts only few weeks . A childish illusion, indeed, which would have made us forget for a while the ugliness that surrounds us every day, giving a little hope. Maybe next year? Maybe.

“Spelacchio”: A Christmas Story


Once upon a time a beauty contest was held among the snowy valleys of Trentino Alto
Adige in order to spot the most, luxurious, beautiful fir worthy to represent the
Christmas spirit in the capital: Rome. The prize was very high: the fir would have
been placed in the middle of Piazza Venezia and would have been adorned with
hundreds of fabulous silver balls and kilometers of lights bulbs. For almost a month
it would have reigned over that ancient city, close to the Coliseum and the majestic
Roman Forum . It would have been admired by millions of people, thus
becoming a celeb. The administrators of the city had in mind to create something
memorable that year, hoping people would forget the shabby organization of the previous Christmas setup. They were so confident that they didn’t even look for a sponsor
to share the expense, as it should have been crystal clear that the merits were to be all
their own .

The winner was a tall, elegant, rich sort of fir and as it had always been very admired and envied in the entire valley, nobody objected that choice. A party to celebrate the victory was given, then, band and scepter in hand, the Fir was accurately prepared and delicately placed on a lorry on a bed of cushions and tied, so that the 700 and more kilometers to the capital might be not too tiring. It should have been at its best once in the capital. However, when the snowy cliffs of Trentino Alto Adige were no longer in sight, a sort of melancholy took possession of its heart. The air was no longer clear and sparkling, but humid and polluted. It seemed as if it could not breathe.
Furthermore, it had started to notice in horror that some pine needles were falling
off prematurely. Surely, it was the stress of the long journey, but fortunately they were very close to the final destination. Nobody would have noticed few pine needles missing, the Fir was sure.

Only when it was eventually crucified in the middle of Piazza Venezia, the most deserving of all firs understood the tragedy that was about to overwthelm it. It was not only for the few
needles that had fallen off, but it had lost almost a half of his green coat. It
stood there, defenceless, tired, mortified at its own ugly nakedness. Was really this tall
and huge scarecrow the “elegant”, “sober” tree promised by the administrators? When the children gathered around the tree they were, of course, disappointed and soon named it sneeringly: “Spelacchio“( the closest word in English I might think about  is “mangy”) The tons of lights that weighted on its humbled spirit and the hundreds of silver
balls that wounded its bare branches were not enough to hide the shabbiness of the
entire effect. Giving a look around from where it had been placed,  however, the Fir felt just a little relieved: that capital was not exactly what it had imagined. Dirt and garbage could be seen almost everywhere, the city seemed chaotic and noisy. Somehow, its presence perfectly fitted that place, it thought bitterly.

Sunset was the happiest moment of the day. The lights were turned on, so the Fir felt safely hidden behind the magic wonder that covered it all and imagined to be admired as it used to be, but the mornings were hideous and the Fir couldn’t bear to read in the disappointed eyes of passers-by its own failure any longer. So there it stands now, barer and barer day after day, waiting for Christmas to come, hoping  to be set free as soon as possible from its misery and humiliation . Much better to end up as a log in some warm fireplace that exposed in that cold square.

The moral of the story? Well, if your city administrators cannot even make a decent Christmas tree, it is very unlikely they will be able to bring the place you live to the standards it deserves. Think twice before giving your vote next time.

In the meanwhile, Merry Christmas everyone!

 

The Den of Christmas Spirit

cri2cri3If you watch the bright Christmas lights with eyes of wonder, while walking in the familiar streets of your city like a little child, if you get lost for hours in a mall searching for gifts to put under the tree picturing the joyful reaction of those who will receive them, if you are thrilled only at the idea of gathering around a dinner table with your family and friends or simply if you find yourself sitting at the window hoping for the snow to come ( I might actually wait for years or decades here in Rome), well, this is the spirit of Christmas that comes to visit you at this time of the year. But rather, if you are annoyed by the people who crowd in frenzy streets and shops and if you are anguished and appalled by the imminent visit of your friends and relations and if a sense of nausea arouses, just thinking at the presents you’ll have to buy or the faces you’ll have to see, or if you just don’t stand at that window, because in case it really snowed, Rome would be paralyzed and we would pay the consequences for weeks and weeks, what does that mean? That you are an insensitive, cruel, selfish human being? Not exactly. It means that you suffer from the bah humbug” syndrome. I’m not joking, this is science or better: Science with capital letter.

 cri1A group of Danish medical scientists in their own spirit of holiday fun, published a study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) asserting that the spirit of Christmas does not actually come to visit us every year, but rather, it resides in us and precisely in our brain.That is why this tradition with its blissful and magical atmosphere has lasted for hundreds and hundreds of years. A team of researchers of Rigshospitalet hospital, in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen, set out to locate exactly where the old spirit of Christmas hides in the brain using modern MRI machinery to study the changes of oxygenation and blood flow that occur in response to neuronal activity. So, they divided participants into two groups, one of people who had strong Christmas traditions and the other with people who did not celebrate it. The latter group included Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi and Turkish people who expatriated or were born in Denmark. People who did not celebrate it, but still felt a strong connection to the holiday were excluded, as were people who did celebrate but had a negative association with it. In short, 20 people were examined while they were watching  84 images with Christmas themes alternated to scenes of everyday life. For example, they were shown a street decorated with lights and then an ordinary street. 

cri5Among the participants who were placed in first group,  the researchers  have identified five regions of the brain which lit up like Christmas trees when holiday images were shown. These regions are commonly associated with spirituality and they control the sense of touch and body language interpretation . This led the researchers to determine there is a “Christmas spirit network” in the human brain. It’s in these brain areas that the spirit of Christmas resides. Therefore, those who do not like Christmas and believe that it is all nonsense, are actually affected by what scientists call bah humbug” syndrome.  A syndrome that affects millions of people, especially adults and that could be cured.  The researchers, in fact, suggested that locating the Christmas spirit in the brain can help reverse that sad syndrome. Maybe someday there will be a complex machine that can generate the Christmas spirit in people, and why only at Christmas time? Couldn’t we enjoy it every single day of the year?
In the meantime, I wish you to fully enjoy your Christmas spirit and have a great time.
Merry Christmas.
Stefy. 🙂

Was Jesus Christ born on Christmas day?

jesus1

Christmas is so close and I’m sure you have already made your houses sparkle with all the cheerful, festive lights and I am pretty sure that a richly decorated Christmas tree is brightening the living rooms where you, your families and friends will gather to celebrate the Nativity, the birth of the baby Jesus. But, are you fully aware of what you are about to celebrate? As, you have to know, if you don’t know it already, that Jesus Christ was not born at all on Christmas day; the 25th of December was the birthday of Mithras.

Mithras who? I guess, some of you would ask ; just wait a minute as I have to give you some information first. You have to know that there is no real evidence about either the precise year or the day of Christ’s birth. It seems that around the third century AD some Christians had started celebrating Christ’s birth, as well as his death, on March 25th, the spring Equinox, a day that symbolized the “rebirth of the earth”, but as far as we know the celebration of Christ’s birth was not general until the fourth century.

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Aureliano

By the time of Aurelian’s reign (around 214-275 AD), it appears that the god Mithras (originally a Persian deity who was said to be either the son of the sun or the companion of the sun) was earning popularity among traveling Roman soldiers. Aurelian decided to seize on an opportunity to bring a monotheistic cult to the Roman Empire, and it is likely that his motivation was to compete with Christianity – a growing monotheistic religion that he saw as a threat to the empire. Hence, the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, “The Birth of the Unconquered Sun,” was  established to celebrate Mithras on the twenty-fifth of December 274 AD . The choice of the day was particularly symbolical, as, at that time, it was considered the winter solstice, that is, the moment when days begin to lengthen and the power of the sun to increase; the fittest day for the son of the sun.

jesus3The Egyptians represented the new-born sun by the image of an infant, which they used to bring forth and exhibit to his worshippers on his birthday and kindle lights in token of festivity. When the doctors of the Church perceived that this celebration was becoming dangerously popular even among the Christians, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnized on that day and the festival of the Epiphany on the sixth of January. Accordingly, along with this custom, the practice has prevailed of kindling fires till the sixth of January. That’s why we keep on lighting our towns and houses after so many centuries: in memory of the god of the sun!! In short, Christmas is nothing but a relic of the worship of a pagan god known by the Persians as Mithra or Mithras dressed in Christian symbolism and a lot of lights.

Let me wish you then, Merry Mithras day and a Happy New Year!!! 🙂

 

Christmas Devils

 

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It’s almost Christmas time, but if you are looking forward to enjoying that magical atmosphere and you don’t feel like waiting a couple of weeks more, well, there is a place in Italy which has already put on the festive attire of the most enchanting celebration of the year: Trentino Alto Adige. My last experience in Trentino Alto Adige last summer had not actually been the most enjoyable one, I know, but I think anybody must be given a second chance, therefore my husband and I took advantage of a four-day holiday to visit the famous Christmas markets in Bressanone, Bolzano and Merano.

imageChristmas markets are very renowned here and are a major touristic attraction. We arrived in Bressanone at sunset and the town was all a glow of lights, Christmas trees and ornaments. Once arrived at the cathedral square, I could see the classical stands which displayed the typical products of the land, hand-made decorations, cribs, carved wooden figures, candles etc. I was looking for one stand in particular, the “strauben”stand. Strauben is a typical sweet fritter, coiled and twisted, flavored with grappa, served with ice sugar on top, plus cranberry sauce or chocolate.

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I devoured it in few secs without even blotting my winter coat. My white winter coat. By the way, I noticed that the lady who had served me the strauben was looking at me with a certain concern. She informed me, in fact, that in short, hundreds of young boys would have reached the square, dressed up as devils with the intent of frightening with their whips, rusty chains and bells the people they would meet and smear them with black grease. Whaaaat??? I had the unfittest outfit on, for sure. In few minutes the fairy place turned out into one of Dante’s circles of hell. When I saw “Caron dimonio ” and his fellow devils rush into the square, I immediately ran away to seek shelter in one of the shops around, while I sent my husband to take some pictures for the sake of the post. But what was all that mess about?

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imageThose beast-like creatures are called Krampus and belong to the folklore of Alpine countries. It was thought that they appeared during Christmas season to punish those naughty children who misbehaved to carry them away to their lairs. Traditionally men dress up as Krampus during the first week of December, particularly on the evening of the fifth of December, the eve of Saint Nicholas day. This tradition is, in fact, linked to the figure of Saint Nicholas. It seems that long, long time ago, in times of famine, the young men little mountain villages used to wear furs made up with feathers, animal skins and horns. In this way nobody could recognize them and they were free to terrify, rob and sack the inhabitants of nearby villages. After a while the young men realized that there was an impostor among them as his feet seemed to be goat hooves: he was the devil himself.

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The bishop Nicholas was called to exorcise that disturbing presence and once the devil was beaten, from then on, young men from those valleys parade along the streets of the villages dressed up like devils, following the image of the bishop who had succeded in defeating evil. They no longer frighten the villagers, but bring gifts (they usually throw nuts or sweets) or hit naughty boys. But as soon as the sun sets, Saint Nicholas disappears from the scene, so without the control of the Saint, the Krampus are once again free to spread terror hitting whoever crosses their way.
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And in case you met one of them, this is what might happen to you .image
My hero !!!! 😀