Like everywhere else, pre-Christmas shopping and socializing are in full swing here. The streets are crowded with shoppers and there are little Christmas markets selling crafts and food. I wondered where this custom of gift-giving had arisen and lo and behold, I found out that it has existed here since Roman times when the pagan festival Saturnalia was held to celebrate the winter solstice. According to the calendar of that time, the day of the solstice was December 25th and was marked by feasting, partying and the exchange of small gifts. In the 4th century, Pope Julius declared this day to be the birth day of Christ in the hope that more pagans would convert to Christianity. The custom of lighting candles signified light returning after the solstice and of course, lights are now a big part of Christmas. The streets here are all lit up and very festive looking.
As usual, there is a very large tree in the Piazza of St. Peters Basilica. Every year a particular town or region constructs a huge Nativity scene in the Piazza and this year Venice created it out of sand taken from the Lido di Jesolo. Good thing it`s covered as we`ve been having more rain than usual. The custom here is to place the baby Jesus in the crib on Christmas Eve after midnight Mass. Obviously, this could not be done with the sand sculpture so it is already complete.
Last year, the Christmas tree which the city installs in Piazza Venezia, was a laughing stock as it was spindly and dying when it was put up earning the name of Spelacchio, the mangy one. This year, Netflix has donated a tree and a fine one it is too. In fact so large, that the bottom branches had to be sawn off in order for it to be transported to its location and then hammered back into place again. The only eyesore is that there is a large TV screen at the bottom presumably showing something related to Netflix. I didn’t get close enough to see as it was raining when I went by.
During Roman times when Saturnalia was celebrated, schools and workplaces were closed and even the slaves didn’t work during this time. I met a friend today who has turned down a dinner invitation on Christmas Eve as apparently, all public transport will stop at 9 pm, taxis will be scarce and he won’t be able to get home. Romans still take their holidays seriously it seems. I myself will be back in Toronto for Christmas and for sure public transport will be operating normally there.