Festa Del Ceppo – The Italian Yule Log Tradition

Article first published as Festa Del Ceppo - The Italian Yule Log Tradition on Technorati.
It is now less than a month to Christmas and you can feel excitement in the air. Children are counting the days until they can open the first door of their Advent calendar, which will make it easier for them to realise how close this important day is. You cannot turn the radio on without hearing a familiar tune and Christmas markets are now open, offering mulled wine, warming food and gift ideas. Streets come alive at night with thousands of fairy lights and decorations are glittering in the shop windows.

In Italy, particularly in Tuscany and Piemont, it will soon be time for the "festa del ceppo", the "Festival of the Log". The Italians have two different ways of interpreting this yule log tradition. In the first instance, the Ceppo is a wooden structure mounted in the shape of a pyramide. Its size varies, but it is commonly decorated with shiny paper or frills and greenery. Its shelves contain nuts, fruit and little presents. At the base of the Ceppo, the family will place the crib, and a star can most of the time be found at the top. It is also common to add candles on the sides and light them, which explains why the Ceppo is sometimes called the "Tree of Light".

The other tradition is more elaborate and has both pagan and Christian origins. In the Christian version, the log symbolizes the place where Mary warmed her newborn baby Jesus. On the Pagan side, it represents the circle of life with the sun being reborn on the winter solstice and purification through fire.

It goes like this. On Christmas Eve, an enormous log is positioned in the fireplace and set alight. Family and friends gather around the fire to rejoice. In some regions, children come and hit the log with sticks, creating sparks. They sing the "Ave Maria del Ceppo" and receive sweets and gifts. They may be blindfolded and find the presents after removing the makeshift masks.

Another tradition is to give offerings. Coins nestled in close proximity to the chimney or some wine sprinkled on the fire. The "Ave Maria del Ceppo" can also be sung then. The log is supposed to burn without interruption until New Year, as this is going to bring good luck to the household. Once the wood has turned into ashes, these will often be used to protect the house from possible weather damages or scattered in fields in the hope it will help bring in bountiful crops.

In an addition to the reference to grain harvesting, it is also recognized that bread and cakes are symbols of physical and spiritual nourishment. It is therefore appropriate on such a day to eat the traditional panettone and pandoro.
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