The Immaculate Conception: Origins and Traditions in Italy

As you probably know, the 8th December is an important Italian national holiday: it is the celebration of the Immacolata Concezione (Immaculate Conception), stated as a Catholic dogma in 1854 by Pope Pio XI.

In this day people celebrate the conception of the Virgin Mary free from original sin, not the conception of Jesus as most people believe: after a controversial debate Giovanni Duns Scoto, an important theologian, asserted that God kept the Virgin Mary immaculate by virtue of the foreseen birth of her son Jesus Christ.

Originally this day was celebrated with big bonfires as part of a rural tradition that spread all around Italy and is still alive in several Italian regions: the bonfire dispels the fear of the winter and gives fertility to the earth, gathering the whole community around it and making them celebrate together.

The 8th December also initiates the Advent period: this is why the main tradition in Italy is making the Christmas tree and setting up all the decorations.

In addition to that, there are many local traditions to discover. Let’s see some of them!

  • In Napoli people gather around the Guglia, a kind of obelisk in Piazza del Gesù which is the symbol of the Marian devotion, where the Mayor of the City brings a garland to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
  • In Castellammare di Stabia, not far from Naples, in the evening of the 7th December people light big bonfires called focaracchi in each neighborhood of the city and celebrate until the morning of the 8th.
  • In Taranto there is a massive parade that ends up with amazing fireworks. In the same day people prepare the traditional pettole, little balls of fried dough dusted with sugar.
  • In Calabria there is an ancient tradition called perciavutta: people taste the new wine and eat the grespelle, little fried balls filled with anchovies, dry peppers and cauliflower.
  • In Manarola, a small town in Liguria, the biggest presepe (nativity scene) of the world switch on the 15.000 lights: an incredible spectacle that will take your breath away!

Did you know any of these fantastic traditions? Which one do you prefer?

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