Rome sweet home! I got back to the Eternal City yesterday after a fun-filled time in the States (Illinois and California) and a variety of experiences – Christmas celebrations and meals and holiday parties with family and friends, lots of football games (if you’ve never been with me in a stadium during a football game, there’s a Joan Lewis you do not know!), and many hours spent reading and filling out forms for the real estate agents and escrow people handling the sale of my parent’s home in California. All the more interesting because four of us are owners and three of us live outside California, so emails and phone calls to different times zones complicated things on occasion.
I left San Diego Friday in 70 degree weather, spent a night in Chicago and awoke to snow and arrived Rome yesterday to brilliant sun and cold temps, The temps got colder overnight in Rome but, thank the Lord, the sun matched its brilliance yesterday, a needed ingredient for the festivities marking today’s feast of the Epiphany, as you will read below.
CELEBRATING THE EPIPHANY IN ITALY
The January 6 feast of the Epiphany is a major holiday in both the Vatican and Italy and is celebrated throughout the country in an extraordinarily festive way, from small hamlets and ancient villages to the great metropolises of this land.
On this day, what takes place in the Vatican, starting with the papal Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and ending with joyful, fun-filled festivities in St. Peter’s Square, fairly well mirrors what happens around Italy on this day, although perhaps to a larger extent. Though I did not make it there this morning, on January 6 St. Peter’s is usually filled with many thoudands of faithful as well as troubadors, ancient Roman soldiers, flag throwers and hundreds of costumed citizens representing civil and religious organizations, regions and towns of Italy.
Costumed horesemen and women usually strut their finery and often make their horses dance to the delight of the crowd. More color is added by groups bearing statues and religious images and crosses and banners as they march through the square and down Via della Conciliazione at the end of the Angelus. Bands play and spectators applaud.
A typical Epiphany celebration in St. Peter’s Square:
I remember one year when there were several very old cars, beautifully maintained and interesting to see but they seemed out of place among all the period costumes that graced the piazza.
Another year I remember taking photos of three two-humped camels. I was not sure if it was a dromendary or camel that had two humps so I looked it up and discovered the: The Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) is a large, even-toed ungulate native to the steppes of Central Asia. Of the two species of camels, it is by far the rarer. The Bactrian camel has two humps on its back, in contrast to the single-humped dromedary camel (I also learned that dromedary and camel are interchangeable).
Piazza Navona has forever been a favorite destination all year round for visitors as well as for Italians. At no time is it as festive as it is at Christmas and today, the Epiphany.
Before Christmas, it is tradition that every year each family or child will pick out one new figurine for the family nativity scene that is built at home, and Navona in December has always been a great place to find these terracotta figurines.
A popular Christmas figure you will find here and in many stores is the Befana – a witch-like figure who rides a broomstick and brings coal to bad children and candy to good children. Befana is a breakdown of the word “epiphany” and many, in fact, call her the epiphany witch because she arrives in the night of the epiphany to fill children’s stockings with her gifts.
Yet another Italian tradition is to buy a small, ornament size broom with Christmas ribbons on it – a scacciaguai – that symbolizes the sweeping away of one’s troubles.
Epiphany is, of course, the 12th day of Christmas when the three Magi arrived and gave Baby Jesus their gifts. In some families Epiphany is a bigger celebration that Christmas. Epiphany, in any case, for many signals the end of the Christmas season.
Until a few years ago, the official end of the Christmas season at the Vatican was the February 2 feast of the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple. The tree and nativity scene always remained in the square until that day. Pope Francis changed the date to the second Sunday of January that celebrates the Baptism of Jesus,
POPE’S JANUARY PRAYER INTENTION: PROMOTION OF WORLD PEACE
Pope Francis has released a video message announcing his prayer intention for January 2020: “Promotion of World Peace.”
In this intention, the Holy Father asks people to pray that Christians, followers of other religions, and all people of goodwill may promote together peace and justice in the world.
Following is the text of that January 2020 message:
“In a divided and fragmented world, I want to invite all believers, and also all people of good will, to reconciliation and fraternity. Our faith leads us to spread the values of peace and mutual understanding, of the common good.We pray that Christians, followers of other religions, and all people of goodwill may promote together peace and justice in the world. Thank you.”