For those, like me, that do not go to church at home but are planning an Abruzzo Christmas, do try and go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve (Vigilia di Natale) in Italy outside the big cities just for the experience, you’ll discover how far the original meaning of Christmas remains in Catholicism’s birthplace and modern Italia.
For me it was the 9.30pm mass in my local church, San Pietro in Bascianella, accompanying our ever-wonderful second grandparents Italia & Domenico and their family. Our local Padre manages the equivalent of 2 parishes and this was his busiest night of the year. Generally locked, I had only looked from the outside at our quaint little church over the year we have been semi-residents – it was one of the pullers for moving to the village, sooooo dolce darlings!
From the inside it was stunning; intimate, cosy and welcoming with a frescoed painted wooden roof and a concentration of happy saints rather than the penitential (do go go go if you are on holiday in Abruzzo). The age of the roof varies depending on which local you ask, anywhere from 250-400 years old! Anyway the church in its current format is built on an existing one that housed generations of local ancestors’ remains – there is a sign proclaiming this above the door. (Photos coming soon when we next visit).
It holds no more than 70 people at a tight squash, but it is a ‘community’ church and lofty vaulted ceilings wouldn’t be valued when the purpose of the place is to bring you closer to God and humanity itself and reach out to your neighbour without shrinking! The church bells were rung from the inside with a man who on first look appeared to be strapped in ready to pull weights to tone his bingo flaps, but no weight-pulling merely a fine peal!
A lit handmade nativity scene was set out on the floor, delicate and tasteful that led you out of the nave and to a manger covered with a sheet just below the altar. We sat down in the pews, most of the women sat down with the men-folk standing at the back (depending on your age & constitution). There began the speediest of church services I can ever recall. The children of the village were all invited at the start by the priest to individually shout down the microphone to everyone individually “Buona Natale”. Readings were by the children one by Italia’s daughter-in-law from St Paul’s. Prayers included the Lord’s Prayer, a couple of communal chants – a hymn without any accompanying organ (thank goodness Italians always sound melodious). As in Protestant services there were wishes of peace & happiness but unlike services back home everybody did walk around, shake hands and kiss one another.
A few people took communion and then in just 30 minutes it was over, finishing with everyone walking up to the doll Jesus now in an uncovered manger and held by the priest and kissing his knee or ankle (maybe a reference to the washing of feet by Mary Magdalene?). Outside everyone kissed, hugged and for once it really did feel that this was what Christmas Spirit was all about – sharing a word and wishing your neighbour well.
The Times – What does Christmas Mean to You?
Channel 4 – Christina Odone’s Christmas Reading
Wikipedia – The Christmas Truce 1914