08 Dec 2009

December 8 is a national holiday. We celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is the real beginning of the Christmas holidays: let the celebrations begin!

The first holiday of the season

If Thanksgiving day opens the holidays season in the States, December 8 officially and definitely opens the holiday season in Italy. Every region has other holidays which mark the beginning of the Christmas holidays (I’m thinking of Santa Cecilia Day in Southern Italy) but I guess here, where I grew up, this is the moment when you are “officially” entitled to get into the Christmas spirit!

It’s true that, every year, the Christmas decorations come out a bit sooner than the year before. The stores are full of Christmas stuff already in mid-November. This year, the first time I saw a store full of lights, fake snow and the usual decorations, I felt like I was waking up after a long sleep and I thought I was by no means ready for the holiday season! Not that I had been sleeping… quite the opposite actually. I have been working like a maniac lately, with four courses and the renovations of our vacation rental near Siena, Casina di Rosa. In all the working madness, three months had just flown by… and there I was, in mid-November, staring at a store window thinking that I had no idea that it was almost Christmas already!!!

But now I know. Now I am ready. It’s December 8th, the sky is grey, the lights are up, the tree is lit, and I have a cake in the oven. This is the perfect beginning of the holiday season for me. The perfect day to curl up on the sofa and enjoy some quiet family time. Christmas time has come.

Not everybody knows that today is a national holiday. It’s a religious holiday, actually: the Roman Catholic church celebrates the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I won’t go into the whole matter of the dogma, but while reading this morning, I was surprised to find out that it comes from the old English Catholicism (via the Eastern Byzantine tradition), rather than from some Italian monk. Well, actually the first theological discussion came from an Italian monk who lived in England, Anselm of Canterbury, but it was two British Franciscans, William of Ware and Blessed John Duns Scotus, who helped develop the theology. The dogma wasn’t incorporated in the Catholic doctrine until, in 1854, Pius IX solemnly proclaimed: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.” I was also surprised to find out that the Virgin Mary is the patroness of the United States which celebrates its Patron Day today.

Every town and city in Tuscany celebrates the day with some event dedicated to the new olive oil and the products of the fall, now ready, or with the opening of a Christmas market. To name just a few events:

  • Flute concert in the church of San Paolino in Viareggio (Giochi di Flauti – 9:15 pm) (Lucca)
  • Santa Claus’ House awaits kids in Via Regia in Viareggio (Lucca)
  • Christmas market in Pisa, by the Highstreet and Ponte di Mezzo
  • Sagra del Bombolone (“doughnut”), Christmas market, polenta and grilled meat in Laterina (Arezzo).
  • Gran Concerto Augurale by the Filarmonica Puccini of Camaiore at the theater Teatro dell’Olivo at 4pm (Lucca)
  • Fire Festival – Bonfires welcome the Christmas holidays in Pergine Valdarno at 6pm (Florence)
  • Christmas markets, nativity scenes and fun for the children in Palazzuolo sul Senio (Florence)
  • Exhibition dedicated to nativity scenes from private collections never before shown to the public in San Giovanni Valdarno, 4-7 pm until Januray 6 (Arezzo)
  • Il Desco, an exhibition dedicated to the products typical of the Lucca region, Real Collegio, Lucca.
  • Olive oil festival in San Quirico d’Orcia (Siena), with a steam engine train reaching the village from Florence.
  • Olive oil festival in Cerretti (Pisa)
  • Olive oil festival in Sarteano (Siena), with a bike tour among the olive trees (pedalata tra gli ulivi) and a treasure hunt in the center called Caccia al TesOlio.
  • Olive oil festival in Reggello (Florence)
  • Olio sapiens, olive oil festival in Tavarnelle Val di Pesa (Florence).
  • Sagra del cinghiale (wild boar) in Suvereto (Livorno)
  • Sagra della polenta dolce (sweet polenta) in Talla-Faltona (Arezzo)
  • Sagra of the ancient flavours of Tuscany in Lastra a Signa (Florence)
  • Sagra della ciaccia fritta (ciaccia is a type of focaccia) in Cortona (Arezzo)
  • Barga cioccolata, chocolate festival in Barga (Lucca)
  • Mediterranean flavours festival in Impruneta (Florence)
  • Crete d’autunno, the fall products of the crete senesi, Buonconvento (Siena)
  • Opening of Wine and Fashion Florence
  • Vinsanto festival in collaboration with Slow Food Siena and excellent music every night at 9 pm in Montefollonico (Siena)
  • Il campionato di vino, two days dedicated to wine in Fiesole (Florence)
  • Calici d’inverno, wine festival in Massa Marittima (Grosseto)
  • Castagnata e vin brulé in centro, chestnuts and vin brulé in Castelfiorentino (Florence)
  • Natale slow in Cutigliano (Pistoia)
  • Florence Noel, Stazione Leopolda in Florence.
  • Piazza in Festa, a day of celebrations waiting for Christmas, Monsummano Terme (Pistoia)
  • Christmas Market in Casole d’Elsa (Siena)


  1. A very interesting post:

    In Italy: Honoring the Virgin Mary Through Art

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