The Hometown History column is presented by the Fenton History Center and The Post-Journal. Each Friday, a distinct item from the Fenton History Center collections or archival special collections will be featured. Learn about your hometown history through parts of its past.
If one of the items featured brings back some memories or brings up a question, please contact the Fenton History Center at 664-6256 or firstname.lastname@example.org to share your memory or get an answer to your question.
By Karen E. Livsey
The Presepio at the Fenton History Center in the Italian holiday exhibit is shown.
Just like other countries, Italy experiences a variety of different traditions within its various regions.
As immigrants arrived in this country, these different traditions came with them.
Family historians, who are a number of generations away from the immigrants and are not sure where in Europe or what region of a country the immigrant family was from, should take time to look at any traditions or foods that are still practiced or made by the family.
Often cookbooks can help narrow the region in which a particular food was prevalent. Traditions are also traceable to a region, although many have been adopted by others. Part of the traditions at the Fenton History Center is to feature some of these stories, traditions and favorite foods in the holiday exhibits.
In 1223, in Greccio, Italy, St. Francis of Assisi is credited with establishing the first Presepe, or Nativity scene. Bringing the message of Christ's birth to the people of the area in a symbolic way, the baby was laid on a bed of hay as an ox and a donkey stood nearby. Soon people began recreating the Nativity scene in their towns and in their homes. This has become a part of the Christmas season in the Christian world. Often the Presepe, Creche or Nativity scene is set up as early as the first Sunday of Advent, but the Christ child figure is not added until Dec. 25. Many Nativity scenes are left up until Epiphany on Jan. 6.
Parts of Italy also use the Ceppo as part of the Christmas season. This pyramid-shaped item can be small to sit on a table or large enough to fill a corner of a room. Each shelf holds symbolic items. On the bottom shelf is the manger scene representing the gift of God. The middle shelf holds fruit and nuts representing the gifts of the Earth. The top shelf holds earthly presents representing the gifts of man. The top holds a pineapple representing hospitality.
Often in Italy, the Christmas Eve meal is meatless but has many different fish dishes. The area around Rome often featured a large eel, fried, roasted or baked, as part of the Christmas Eve meal. One item available in our stores today is the Panettone, a large bread that comes from the area around Milan. Today there are many flavors, but the most popular remains the one made with raisins and candied fruit.
The Feast of St. Nicholas, the Archbishop of Myra in Asia Minor, is celebrated on Dec. 6. The story is that a group of Italian merchants and clergymen stole the remains of St. Nicholas and brought them to Bari, Italy, where a shrine was built in his honor. Pilgrimages are made to Bari, and on Dec. 6 a festival is held to honor him. In Europe, children often receive gifts on St. Nicholas Eve, Dec. 5.
What traditions or favorite foods does your family continue every year at holiday time?
The Fenton History Center hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Center will close at 1 p.m. on Christmas Eve and will be closed on Christmas Day.
The purpose of the Fenton History Center is to gather and teach about southern Chautauqua County's history through artifacts, ephemeral and oral histories, and other pieces of the past.
Visit www.fentonhistorycenter.org for more information on upcoming events.
If you would like to donate to the collections or support the work of the Fenton History Center, call 664-6256 or visit the center at 67 Washington St., just south of the Washington Street Bridge.