Celebrating Holidays {Tuesdays with Tina, part 12}

This entry is part 12 of 22 in the series Tuesdays With Tina

If you are new to this series, catch up first and then come back and read.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Tuesdays with Tina

Me: Tell me about holidays and celebrations…birthdays…

Tina: We didn’t really celebrate birthdays. At least, I don’t remember celebrating them. We celebrated name days. {A name day is day allocated to the saint for which a person is named. So since my mother is named “Immacolata” [for the immaculate conception] she celebrates her name day on November 8th which is the day of the immaculate conception – a holy day in the Roman Catholic church and a day of obligation. For a calendar of all the name days go here.} Back then, almost everyone had a saint’s name. So for the popular names – for example Maria, Anna, Carmela – on the streets of Naples you would see flowers being delivered. Donna Carmela, who lived across the street, would receive a serenade at night sent by her husband.

Me: Wait. He would serenade her or someone else?

Tina: He would send someone with musical instruments to serenade her.

Me: What would they sing?

Tina: Oh this song has always stuck with me… {sings a little ditty}. Then when they were done she would invite them in for coffee. Then you would see people carrying pots full of hot chocolate coming and going through the buildings, through the streets. That was the custom for the name day: drink hot chocolate and dip cookies in it. The person whose name day was being celebrated would gift it to someone else. In other words, they did not RECEIVE the hot chocolate, they GAVE it to family members. I don’t even know if this custom is still practiced today. Things change. We are talking about the 1950’s, early 60’s. This is what we did for the name day. Then for Christmas you could feel that there was a festivity. It was in the air! The shops – the fish monger, the fruit seller – would stay open in the late evening with all their lights on. It FELT like an important holiday.

Me: Did they decorate the shop windows?

Tina: Yes, yes they would decorate but not with lights. That came later, stringing colored lights on the balconies. Some homes had trees but mostly they had a nativity scene. Everyone had one.

Me: So you didn’t have a Christmas tree, only a nativity scene?

Tina: No, we would have one some years. Same with the nativity scene. But I do remember that the godparents’ son had a nativity scene that was big. He would add to it every year until it was a town, a whole village, not just the manger scene. Naples is known for their nativities. They have some of the oldest and most detailed and beautiful ones in the world. At the royal palace and at Capodimonte there are some statues that are dressed with handmade silk clothes. We had one that was made of clay. Even now there is a street, all year long, where they sell nativity sets and pieces. The street is called San Gregorio Armeno and it’s near Spaccanapoli. I’ve seen recent pictures of this street during the Christmas period where the streets are so jam-packed with people! They decorate the streets with many lights. Nowadays Salerno (about an hour from Naples) is decorated for Christmas with lots of lights. Each neighborhood has a theme. {click here for some images I found on the Google} I saw it on TV this year! It looks beautiful!  

Me: When you were young. there was no Santa Claus…what did you do for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day…did you go to church…midnight Mass?

Tina: Yes, we would go to church and although they had midnight Mass, we never went at midnight. First of all there’s the novena for the Immaculate Conception. It begins nine days before and culminates on the 8th of December. My mother was very devoted to the Virgin Mary so we did the novena. There was a prayer. Then the zampognari would come. This is something that I miss very much. They would come from the mountains they would remain in the city for that time period. First they would do the novena for the immaculate conception and then they would do the novena for Christmas. They would play in homes (people would pay them to) or they would play near shrines or chapels. They would play the bagpipes. This music would feel so festive.

Then the food! Back then we didn’t eat a lot of meat. MAYBE once every two weeks. So we would look forward to eating chicken or beef. But nowadays that anticipation is gone because we eat meat all the time. It’s no longer a treat or a novelty. 

The children who went to school would do the “little Christmas letter for daddy.” They would place it at the father’s place setting, between the flat plate and the bowl, then when the bowl was removed after eating the first course, the father would “find” the little Christmas letter. The fathers always made a big deal out of the letter and the children would recite a poem. After the big meal we would play tombola, or cards. We spent Christmas with family so even though my father had no one left, we had aunts and cousins on my mother’s side. We didn’t exchange gifts. We couldn’t afford to. It might be that other families who had more did but we did not. The children would wait for la Befana on the eve of the 6th of January. In fact the first time I ever received any Christmas presents was when I met your father. We met in September of 1965 and at Christmas he gave me a picture album, some hand lotion (I didn’t even know what it was and had to write to my friend, Lina, in New York to ask what ‘lotion’ meant), and a scarf. So then I arrived at home with a stack of 2-3 things which I didn’t know how to explain! I didn’t know what to say at home, where this stuff came from. I made up some story about la Signora Aprile (where she worked at the tailor shop). None of my friends had any money either so it wasn’t like we exchanged gifts with friends! 



Series Navigation<< Sickness and health {Tuesdays with Tina}Life in Naples in the Late 50s, Early 60s {Tuesdays with Tina, part 13} >>

About Sheila @ Making the Most of Every Day

I'm a wife, mom, and a homeschool teacher. I'm always behind on housework and paper pile sorting. I'm fond of this crazy life but not of melted cheese. I want to follow hard after God, making each day really count. I like to run, read, cook (and eat!). Thanks for joining along on my journey!