Monday, 24 November 2014

WINTER IN ROME 2014

Winter in Rome is a good time for those interested in cultural events, and the Italian way of life. Rome in the winter has a relaxed, laid-back quality all of its own not seen at other times of the year. The chaos of tourist rush is over and the city quietens down, while it prepares for the Christmas holidays. On the shopping days before Christmas, and around the Italian bank holiday of 8th December, the streets become busy, but usually the tourist sights are not too busy in the winter. If you go in the weeks leading up to Christmas, you get to see the Christmas fair on Piazza Navona and nativity scenes set up in public spaces such as the Spanish Steps, Piazza San Pietro and in churches across the city.

Special Christmas Carols, Gospel Concerts, and Lyric performances take place in Rome during the festivities.
While January celebrates shopping sales, and February does the Roman Carnival.


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Winter Temperature
You would need a coat, gloves, scarf and umbrella, but don't forget your sunglasses too!
The sun shines through most of the winter in Rome and the city continues to be vibrant and alive even during the colder months of the year (December to February). Temperature in Rome rarely goes under zero degrees, early in the morning it may be necessary to wear a hat and a scarf, but during the day, the temperature may raise to 15C/60F. Snow is rear and even on the coldest days in winter, the sun usually makes a generous appearance. Sometimes a cold wind can send a chill through the streets, but at other times it is mild enough to eat outside. It can be a pleasant winter treat to sit outdoors with a steaming cup of cappuccino or mulled wine, plus many restaurants and bars have heaters above outdoors tables, and continue to serve customers even when it gets a bit nippy.



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Christmas holiday season
(8 December to January 6)
Rome is full of stylish shops and good places where to buy presents wrapped free of charge in shiny packaging. Although, it would be fair to say that Rome does not offer a show of Christmas lights and decorations comparable to that of many other big cities, it certainly offers a unique atmosphere that hardly equal anywhere else in the world.



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Visitors to Rome over Christmas will doubtless head for the Vatican Highlights of the season are the Papal Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and the Pope reading his Christmas message in the piazza in front of St. Peter's at noon on Christmas Day. However, other Rome winter religious ceremonies are also worth attending. All are interesting because of their historical and artistic background that have their very ancient origin in the Roman pagan festivities associated to the celebration of the new (solar) year.




Rome Ancient Winter festivities started early December with the Chinea, dedicated to Cerere (the goodness of sowing and cereals). Saturnalia took place between December 17 and 23 and were dedicated to Saturnus (the god of sowing and wheat).  Dies Natalis Solis Invicti “the birthday of the unconquered sun” took place on December 25, the date after the winter solstice, with the first detectable lengthening of daylight hours. The Roman New Year, was know as the Calends, the festival of gift-giving when "all is noise and tumult" in "a rejoicing over the new year" was celebrated with a kiss and the gift of a coin. Feralia - Ash Wednesday, took place in February in commemoration of the dead, in the Western Christian calendar, is the first day of Lent and occurs forty-six days before Easter.
Saturnalia became one of the most popular Roman festivals. It was marked by tomfoolery and reversal of social roles, in which slaves and masters ostensibly switched places, much like the Lord of Misrule in later Christian celebrations. While mostly known as a British holiday custom, the appointment of a Lord of Misrule comes from antiquity. In ancient Rome, from the 17th to the 23rd of December, a Lord of Misrule was appointed for the feast of Saturnalia, in the guise of the good god Saturn. During this time the ordinary rules of life were turned topsy-turvy as masters served their slaves, and the offices of state were held by slaves. The Lord of Misrule presided over all of this, and had the power to command anyone to do anything during the holiday period. This holiday seems to be the precursor to the more modern holiday, and it carried over into the Christian era.

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December 8- Festa dell'Immacolata
(Feast of the Immaculate Conception)
The Christmas season in Rome begins on the 8th of December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. During the morning the Pope pays a visit to Piazza di Spagna (the Spanish Steps), to place a crown of flowers over the statue of Mary. He then moves on to give mass at the church of Santa Maria Maggiore. Each year crowds of people gather to celebrate Mary, greet the pope, and start to look at the shop windows of the nearby shopping district streets. The festivity of the Immaculate Conception has a link to Festa della Chinea, a previous Roman holiday, associated with the annual gift to Cerere (the goodness of sowing and cereals).



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Albero di Natale (Christmas tree)
Every year 3 very tall Christmas trees are donated to Rome by different countries to be erected in Piazza S. Pietro, Piazza Venezia and opposite to the Colosseo (Coliseum). Unfortunately, these trees vainly fights to bring a feeling of cold winters and snowy landscapes, as the Roman palms, pines and a bright sunshine all conjure up a warmer Mediterranean atmosphere. One then understands why these trees do not belong to the Italian traditional way of celebrating Christmas.


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Il Presepe (Cribs)
Nativity scenes and Cribs are more suited to the Italian tradition related to the Christmas festivities. Large Presepi are erected in St Peter Square, Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps and on the Capitoline Hill. Most Rome churches have very elaborated cribs which are displayed in the weeks before Christmas. The crib changes during the festivity period: the Bambin Gesù (Infant Jesus) is added on Christmas' night and the three Magi make their appearance at the Epiphany (January 6).
    Cribs’ artisans have developed advanced and elaborated techniques to create very realistic Nativity scenes, using wood, cloth, terracotta and porcelain and introducing mechanisms to move figures around. In Rome a perfect example of these cribs can be seen all year round in the cloister of SS. Cosma e Damiano, and if you are really keen, there is a large exhibition of presepi in the Sala del Bramante by Piazza del Popolo (admission charge).
   At the Christmas Market in Piazza Navona you can buy the components for your own nativity scene, as well as all sorts of Christmas-related ornaments and goodies. Shoppers can marvel at the elaborate additions to nativity scenes, from working waterfalls to moving bakery scenes (in which the bakers look suspiciously like pizza chefs).


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First Sunday after December 8 (Blessing of the Bambinelli)
On the first Sunday after December 8, the Pope blesses in Piazza S. Pietro the “bambinelli”, the crib figures portraying the Infant Jesus.


Jesus Manger
Below the altar of S. Maria Maggiore is a reliquary said to contain pieces of the original Jesus manger. It's kept in a niche the same dimensions as the cave where Jesus was born.
    The “Presepe” in Santa Maria Maggiore is said to be the oldest Christmas Crib in the world. It was carved in marble by Arnolfo di Cambio for the first Rome Jubilee held in 1300. Although originally displayed in the church, it's currently on display in the museum of Santa Maria Maggiore. The bells are rung at midnight on December 24, to signify the start of Christmas.


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December 31- Capodanno - New Year's Eve
Rome's traditional New Year's Eve street celebrations are centered in Piazza del Popolo, where huge crowds celebrate with fireworks, dancing on rock and pop music. While, a classical music concerto takes place outdoors on the square in front of the Quirinale Palace, also followed by fireworks at midnight.


Tango lovers usually meet at the Galleria Alberto Sordi or in the nearby Piazza Augusto Imperatore opposite to Piazza Colonna, dancing while waiting for the traditional and unique Roman midnight fireworks display.
New Year's Eve celebrations last well into the night, as disco, pubs, bars and clubs keep their doors opened till morning dawn.
On New Year's day (while the adults are sleeping), children will be entertained in the square by performers and acrobats.


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Babbo Natale e la Befana (Father Christmas and the Old Fairy)
During the Christmas holiday season Rome's famous Piazza Navona is transformed into a lovely Christmas market, where to find stands selling all kinds of Christmas sweets, toys, nativity figures, decorations, and gifts. A merry-go-round Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) makes an appearance to delight the kids, while la Befana, helps him in the grotto to distribute candies to children. The Befana is a friendly old fairy having the aspect of a witch, who brings gifts to children and sweeps floors. You will see the Befana represented in many forms at the Christmas Market in Piazza Navona, and also during the Epiphany parade of colourful characters and floats leading up to the Vatican.
Find more about la Befana


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Santo Bambino in the Church of Santa Maria Aracoeli
In the 16th century, a statue of baby Jesus was carved from a piece of olive wood from the Garden of Gethsemane. According to the legend, after the statue was carved it miraculously painted itself. Returning to Rome, the ship sank but the statue washed up on shore. It was blessed by the Pope and kept in the Church of Santa Maria Aracoeli on the Capitoline Hill. In the early 1990's, the original statue was stolen so a new piece of olive wood was requested to carve a reproduction, again blessed by the Pope.
   The Romans lovingly call the Holy child “Er PUPO Santo”, Roman children write their Christmas letters to Santo Bambino. On December 23 a Christmas concert is performed in the church, at the end of the concert Pasta and broccoli is served in the parish. On Christmas Eve the statue is put in the church's presepe and on January 6, he's paraded down the church stairs. Thousands of people come for the procession.


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January 6 - Epifania (Epiphany)
On January 6, the Epiphany, large crowds attended the ceremonies celebrating Er Pupo (Infant Jesus) dell'Aracoeli. The procession which takes place at sunset ends with the Santo Bambino being carried to the top of the steps leading to the church: from there a benediction to the City of Rome is said. It is the final event of the religious ceremonies which began on Christmas' Eve.
    In the past, Italian children were given sweets and toys for the Epiphany (January 6), in a re-enactment of the gifts brought to Jesus by the Magi. According to a popular tradition the Befana, fills the socks that children left near the fireplace with toys and sweets. Today in most families gifts including those to children are exchanged at Christmas, but still a sock of candies is usually given at the Epiphany. Naughty boys may find pieces of black coal instead, but they soon discover they are made of sugar.

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January 17 Sant'Antonio Abate
and the blessing of pets


It is not clear how St Anthony became regarded as a tamer and eventually the patron of the animals. It could be a reference to the wild beasts he met in the desert or to the pigs raised by the members of his order to heal with the animals' fat the effects of St Anthony's Fire, a dreadful illness that was common in the Middle Ages. Maybe in the popular imagination he was seen as a Christian version of the myth of Orpheus, the taming of the animals by Orpheus being very often portrayed in mosaics and statues by the Ancient Romans.
    J. W. Goethe who attended the 1787 Feast of St. Anthony made this remark in his Italian Journey: " It is a matter of historical observation that all religions, as their ritual or their theological speculation expands, must sooner or later reach the point of allowing the animals to share to some extent in their spiritual patronage. The church stands on a square which is so large that, normally, it looks empty, but today it is full of life. Horses and mules, their manes and tails gorgeously braided with ribbons, are led up to a small chapel, detached from the church proper, and a priest, armed with an enormous brush, sprinkles them with holy water from tubs and buckets in front of him. He does this generously, vigorously and even facetiously so as to excite them... Donkeys and horned cattle also get their modest share of blessing."
   The church of S. Antonio Abate is no longer the site of the celebration which was moved to the nearby church of S. Eusebio because with the urban development of Rome in the late 19th century the large space before the former church was occupied by buildings, while the latter church retained a small square where animals which cannot enter the church can wait for the end of the mass. On January 17, St Anthony's day, the ceremony is reserved to pets, while on the nearest Sunday horses are blessed.


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Carnevale - Carnival
In Edward Muir's chapter on "Carnival and the lower body", he described the theme of Carnival as "the world turned upside down". He went on to describe "these Carnival inversions of normal life" coming in a wide array of forms including "peasants imitating kings, artisans masquerading as bishops, servants giving orders to their masters, poor men offering alms to the rich, boys beating their fathers, and women parading about in armor". 
J.W. Goethe's described the specific Roman Carnival as a time when "everyone has leave to be as mad and foolish as he likes, and almost everything, except fisticuffs and stabbing, is permissible". There are also some traditions within Roman Carnival, that are particular to it and do not necessarily reflect any aspect of Carnival culture on the whole. For example, horse racing occurs at the end of every night at the Roman Carnival, but by and large, the festival matches the same madness and inversion of society that Muir has described. Where the "carnivalesque" is considered a culture, the Roman Carnival is a specific event within that culture with a beginning (New Year's Day) and an end (Ash Wednesday).

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February -
Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent: during each of the forty days of the Lenten Season the faithful pray in a different church of Rome. The first station is S. Sabina on the Aventine hill and the pope himself leads a short procession which moves from the large modern Benedictine monastery of S. Anselmo to the very old basilica which is part of a Dominican monastery. For the occasion the pope may deliver a homily of particular relevance, not restricted to the traditional religious aspects of Ash Wednesday. On March 5, 2003 Pope John Paul II strongly advocated the need for peace (read his homily in an external link).
   Find a list of the Lenten Stations


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Quarant'ore
Quarant'ore means forty hours and it refers to a special practice of Eucharistic devotion which consisted in forty hours of continuous prayer. It was first introduced in Milan in 1537; St. Ignatius Loyola suggested this practice as a means to prevent people from sinning during the carnival (or for expiating the sins committed during that period).
    The Quarant'ore became very popular after Pope Clement VIII recommended it as a mean to obtain the peace of Christendom. "Macchine delle Quarant'Ore", elaborate and spectacular chandeliers, were lighted for this devotion with the objective of attracting more people. Today the only Macchina delle Quarant'ore which is still in use in Rome belongs to the brotherhood of S. Maria dell'Orto. It holds more than 200 candles which are lighted by the members of the brotherhood, who wear for the occasion their blue uniform. This does not occur any longer during the carnival, but on Holy Thursdays.



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For more information on Rome Events visit:
Rome’s Tourist Office official site
Vatican’s official site
Rome Guide Italy 
Rome Time Out 


Find more info on Winter in Rome on those articles pubblisced by the Telegraph and the New York Times