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Buon Natale! Christmas in Italy
Part 1: Origins in Pagan Celebrations
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• Vocabulary/Music
• Children's Activities
• Christmas Recipes
• Travel To Italy
• Traditions
• Italian Christmas Jokes
• Italian Christmas Quiz
 
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• Italian Holidays
 
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Green, white, and red—the colors of Italy's national flag, and the traditional Christmas colors as well. It may not be a surprise, then, that Christmas probably originated in Italy.

One widely held theory is that the holiday was an intentional christianization of Saturnalia and other pagan festivals. In the third and fourth centuries, the church in Rome found itself in fierce competition with popular pagan religions and mystery cults, most of them involving sun worship. From the middle of December through the first of January, Romans would engage in feasts and drunken revelry, paying homage to their gods and marking the winter solstice, when days began to lengthen.

In A.D. 274, Emperor Aurelian decreed December 25—the solstice on the Julian calendar—as natalis solis invicti ("birth of the invincible sun"), a festival honoring the sun god Mithras. In designating December 25 as the date for their Nativity feast Rome's Christians challenged paganism directly. They also were able to invoke rich biblical symbolism that described Jesus as the "Sun of Righteousness" and God's "true light," sent to dispel darkness in the world.

Over the centuries the Christmas holiday continued to be celebrated with many and varied customs created to mark the event. What is ironic, of course, is that while Christmas without Christ was once the norm, nowadays religious songs, nativity scenes, and church events all play a critical role in many cultures and religions when celebrating the holiday.

In modern-day Italy, the celebration of Christmas has its own unique flavor, combining pastoral traditions, traditional cultural rites, influences from Northern Europe, and a strong spiritual context to mark the important event.

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