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Five unusual Christmas Festivals - Umbria, Italy
Christmas in the Upper Tiber Valley
Umbria in the centre of Italy knows how to enjoy its Christmas time and New Year. There are many festivals, spectacoli and parades for one to enter into or simply stand by and watch. If you are looking for somewhere to go where they are guaranteed to put a smile on your face over the festive season, then I suggest you check out the green heart of Italy and in particular the Upper Tiber Valley.
Canoeing Santa and the Worlds Tallest Tree
1) Babbo Natale in a Canoe, mid afternoon on Christmas day the Canoe Club of Citta di Castello set out on one of the greatest annual feasts. Their canoes all decked out in fairy lights and all the canoeists dressed as Santa (Babbo Natale) then paddle down the River Tiber to the landing stage at the Ponte Vecchio. Here the waiting Children are given sweets and presents as the canoes land. The whole of the riverbank is lined with torches that flicker in the early evening giving the event a very special atmosphere.
2) The Worlds tallest Christmas tree. On the slopes of Mount Ingino each year. Behind the town of Gubbio in the north of Umbria, the town’s folk layout a 800 metre tall, 400 metres wide image of a Christmas tree. It is made out of some 500 light bulbs and contains 2 Km of cabling and can be seen from miles around. It stands in the Guinness Book of Records as the Worlds tallest Christmas tree.
Nativity and the Witch
3) Befana, January 6th, Epiphany is also known as Befana in Italy this is when the Befana, who is a good witch is supposed to appear and give all the good children sweets, those who have not behaved well over the past year get a lump of coal. Truth be told it is a black sugar candy that looks like coal but has the same effect. When the three kings were looking for Christ’s manger they stopped at an old hovel and ask the Befana, a wise old woman who lived the way. She pointed them in right direction but turned down an offer to join them. Later she realised her mistake and now spends eternity searching for the three wise men. on this day in any Italian Piazza you will find the Befana, Citta di Castello’s is provided by the Fire Service and traditionally abseils down the medieval tower.
4) The Living Nativity. In 1224 Saint Francis created the first living nativity scene around the manger in the town of Greccio, near Assisi. Using a simple straw filled feeding trough and with an ox and sheep in attendance he celebrated mass. All over Italy villages recreate the living prescepi each year, with stiff competition to get the prime roles. The best and obvious one to visit has to be the original though, which is still held in Greccio.
5) International Nativity Exhibition. Each year in the crypt of Citta di Castello’s Duomo they hold an international exhibition of miniature nativity scenes. These lovingly crafted dioramas of the birth of Christ come from all over the world with beautiful versions from Latin America, detailed professionally manufactured cribs from Naples and the wonderful creations of local school children. They are all special and although some are very disturbing renditions but comprise a wonderful collection of a simple message.
So whether you want to see Santa in a canoe, an abseiling fireman or frightening nativity scenes you will have a Christmas to remember if you visit some of the festive offerings in Umbria.