Christmas in Italy
In Italy, the Nativity Scene is sometimes displayed in the shape of a pyramid and it can be meters tall. It's made of several tiers of shelves and is made of colored paper, gold colored pine cones and small candles. A small star is hung inside of the pyramid/triangle. The shelves above the manger scene might contain fruit, candy and presents.
One special thing about Neapolitan cribs is that they always have 'extra everyday people' and objects such as (waterfalls, foods, houses, animals, and even figures of famous people and politicians. Naples is home to the largest crib scene in the world, which has over 600 objects in it. In Naples there is still a street of Nativity scene makers called the "Via San Gregorio Armeno." In the street you can buy wonderful hand made crib decorations and figures--and of course whole cribs!
One old Italian custom is that children go out Carol singing and playing songs on Shepherd's pipes, wearing shepherd's sandals and hats. On Christmas Eve it's common that no meat (and often no dairy) is eaten. Often a light seafood meal is eaten and then people attend the Midnight Mass service. The different types of fish and how they are served vary between different regions in Italy. When people return from mass, if it's cold, then they might have a slice of Italian Christmas cake called "Panettone" which is like a dry fruity sponge cake and a cup of hot chocolate.
For many Italian families a big Christmas Eve meal of different fish dishes is a very popular tradition. It's known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes. The feast seems to have its root in Southern Italy and was brought over to the USA by Italian immigrants during the 1800's. Common types of fish eaten during the feast are Baccala (salted cod) clams, Calamari, Sardines, and Eel. There are different theories why seven fishes are eaten. One theory is that the seven represents the seven days of Creation in the Bible. Others say it represents the seven holy sacraments in the Catholic church. The Christmas celebrations start eight days before Christmas with special "Novenas" or series of prayers and church services. Some families have a "Ceppo" or Yule Log which is burned throughout the season.
Epiphany is very important in Italy. One Epiphany night, children believe that an old lady called "Nefana" brings presents for them. The story about Befana bringing presents is very similar of Babushka. Children place stockings up by the fireplace for Befana to fill. In Northern parts of Italy, the three Kings might bring you present rather than Befana. On Christmas Day, "Babo Natale" (Santa Claus) might bring them small gifts, but the primary day for gift giving is on Epiphany. Click on the above link to read the rest of the details.