This year’s first stop on our ongoing Christmas Around the World tour was Italy. I chose Italy because last year when I solicited book suggestions for Christmas stories from other countries, Italy was one of the suggestions. This turned out to be a fun pick, and though things were a little more disjointed this year (thanks to an active two year old and pregnancy lethargy), it came together in a few hours of reading, crafting, and baking, spread out over several days.
We started by reading Tomie DePaola‘s The Legend of Old Befana, the book that Beth suggested last year. (Tomie DePaola is definitely the go-to author for Christmas traditions from around the world!) It’s the story of Old Befana, an Italian crone who is always too busy sweeping her house, her step, and her walk to stop and chat with her neighbors, even for a moment. One night she is awakened by the light of a brilliant star shining in her window, but she closes her shutters to the light and the next day she continues her single-minded activity. However, as she is sweeping out near the road the next day, she hears jingling bells and, to her amazement, a “glorious procession” comes over the hilltop–camels, horses, elephants, and people. When one of the kings in the procession asks her the way to Bethelehem and the Child for whom they are searching, Old Befana scarcely has time to engage him in conversation. Later, though, she regrets her decision and changes her focus to baking goodies for the Babe and sets out in search of Him. Although she never finds Him, even to this day Italian children expect Old Befana to visit them on January 6th, the Feast of the Three Kings, and leave them gifts from her basket of goodies. (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980)
The girls enjoyed this story and even noticed the similarities between it and the Russian tale Baboushka and the Three Kings. Actually, Louise had just read another version of the Russian story the very day we read about Old Befana, so she was able to point out many of the specific differences and similarities (which I loved, of course!). I had the girls read individually about Christmas in Italy from the book Christmas Around the World by Mary D. Lankford (which I reviewed here), and then Lulu wrote a narration and Louise drew a picture based on what they read. Later, Lulu and I worked together on correcting errors (i.e. punctuation, spelling, and capitalization) and fashioning her narration into more of a developed paragraph.
This year I wanted to bring a bit of kitchen fun into our studies, mainly because I can cope with that better than a messy painting activity at the moment. Plus, there are so many choices available, and who doesn’t want to bake cookies at Christmas time? 🙂 I settled on this Italian Christmas Cookie recipe. I even decided to keep the anise flavoring in an attempt to make the cookies more authentically Italian and expand our palates. Anise is not my favorite flavor, but surprisingly the girls seemed to like it well enough. (Maybe they just like sugar! 😉 ) We found the dough sticky and hard to work with, even after several hours in the freezer, so our cookies ended up being rather free-form. Still, it was a fun way to spend a Friday afternoon.
Unlike the previous years, nothing crafty just jumped out at me as I scoured the internet looking for an Italian-themed or inspired Christmas ornament to make. I ended up settling for some sort of star ornament since it was a bright star that first alerted Old Befana to the fact that something unusual was happening. After considering crafts that required glitter and/or paint, I finally settled on this simple ornament at The Crafty Crow, a blog you must know about if you don’t already. My girls both enjoy yarn, sewing, and needle crafting, so this was a good fit.
Ours didn’t end up being entirely star-like because we sort of did our own thing with it, but that’s the beauty of art, right? The girls really enjoyed this, and the ornaments make a nice addition to our Christmas Around the World tree.
Next stop: Germany!