Lucky Italian children have yet to open their christmas gifts.

In the UK many people are now returning to week and Epiphany passes without too much excitement however in Italy it seems that the children will be awaiting eagerly now for their presents on 6th January.  I hope they enjoy them.

Christmas is one of the biggest holidays celebrated the world over. Know how the Holy  Season is traditionally observed in Italy : In Italy, the Christmas season goes for three weeks, starting 8 days  before Christmas known as the Novena and lasts till after the Feast of Epiphany.

Italian Christmas traditions are based  heavily on the religion of Christianity. The opening of the Holy Season is  announced by the sound of cannon firing from the Castle of Saint Angelo in Rome.  Eight days before Christmas, a special service of prayers and church worship  begin which ends on Christmas Day. This special service is known as the Novena,  a Roman Catholic worship service consisting of prayers on nine consecutive  days.

A week before Christmas, poor children  dress up as shepherds complete with sandals, leggings tied with crossing thongs  and shepherds’ hats. Then they go from house to house reciting Christmas poems,  singing Christmas songs and playing them on flutes (shepherds’ pipes) as well.  In return for such acts, they are given get  money to buy presents and treats for the occassion. In some parts of the country(such as in cities like Rome),  real shepherds carry out the performance.

The Nativity scene is one of the most  beloved and enduring symbols of the Christmas season. Creating the Nativity  scene during Christmas actually originated in Italy and is now a popular custom  not only in Italy but also in many other parts of the world. Legend has it that,  St. Francis of Assisi once asked Giovanni Vellita, a villager of Greccio, to  create a manger scene. Giovanni made a very  beautiful Nativity scene and before  this St. Francis performed a mass. Thereafter, the creation of the figures or  pastori became a very popular genre of folk art.

On the 8th of December, the day of the Immacolata, is observed a tradition to  set up the “Presepio” (Crib) and the Christmas  tree. The Presepio (manger or crib) represents, by means of small  statues(usually hand-carved and finely detailed in features and dress), scenes  regarding Jesus’ birth with the Holy Family and the baby Jesus in the stable.  These scenes are often set out in triangular shapes. The Presepio is the center  of Christmas celebrations for families. By twilight, candles are lighted around  the family crib known as the Presepio, prayers are said, and children recite  poems. Guests kneel before the crib and musicians sing before it. The tree is a  fir, real or fake, decorated with colored  balls and multicolored lights. Both the “Presepio” and the tree are put away in  the evening of next year on January 6th.

A strict fast is observed a day before Christmas and ends 24 hours later with  an elaborate celebratory Christmas feast. While the Christmas  Eve dinner excludes meat items and is based mainly on fish, it is  permissible to eat meat on Christmas Day. Though the menu varies from region to  region, the first course of a Christmas feast is either a Lasagna, Cannelloni or  a timbale of pasta. Mixed roast or roast beef form the main item for the second  course. These are served with various types of cheeses, fruits(dried and  otherwise) and lots of sweets, all soaked in a good quality red or white wine.  Grappa, Whiskey and other hard liquors are also served during the feast. The  Torrone, the most typical of the Christmas sweets, its available with honey or  chocolate almonds or pistachios. The Christmas  cake eaten is of a light Milanese variety known as “Panettone” and  contains raisins and candied fruits. Another famous cake is “Pandoro” a soft  golden colored variety which originated in Verona. Chocolate also features in  the menu. At noon on Christmas Day the pope gives his blessing to crowds  gathered in the huge Vatican square. For Christmas lunch is served “Tortellini  in Brodo” – filled pasta parcels in broth. In central Italy is also served  “Cappone” – boiled capon. A special New Year Banquet is arranged on December  31st with raisin bread, turkey, chicken, rabbit, and spaghetti being the main  items on the menu. Champagne is the drink of the evening.

During Christmas, small presents are drawn from a container known as the “Urn  of Fate”. In this lucky dip, there is always one gift per person. But the main  exchange of gifts takes place on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany, the  celebration in remembrance of the Magi’s visit to the baby Jesus. In Italy the  children wait until Epiphany for their presents and hang up their stockings on  January 6. They anxiously await a visit from “La Befana”. According to the “La  Befana” legend, while on their way to Bethlehem to visit the baby Jesus, the  three wise men stopped during their journey and asked an old woman for  directions. They also told her of Jesus’ birth and asked her to join them. She  refused them and they continued on their way.  Later a shepherd asked her to  join him in paying respect to the Baby Jesus and Befana refused again. Within a  few hours the woman had a change of heart and wished she had gone to visit the  Christ child. She arrived at the stable where Jesus was but could not find him as Joseph and Mary had long departed to escape execution by the King Herod who  wanted to kill Christ. In Italian folklore, she is called Befana and depicted  variously as a fairy queen, a crone, or an ugly witch on a broomstick. Befana is  said to be flying around ever since, looking for the Christ Child each year and  leaving presents at every house with children in case he is there. She slides  down chimneys, and fills stockings and shoes with good  gifts for good children and pieces of charcoal for the bad ones. In this,  “Befana” may be said to be the Italian equivalent of Father Christmas or Santa  Claus


Research shows that Bilingual children have “an aptitude for selective attention” and an ability to filter and focus on information.

Further to the last story this from the BBC highlights the demonstrable benefits whilst challenging the sceptics view that it (bilingualism) can be confusing, and so potentially detrimental to them (the learners).

Bilingual children outperform children who speak only one language in problem-solving skills and creative thinking, according to a new study.Researchers set lingual, arithmetical and physical tasks for 121 children, aged about nine, in Scotland and Sardinia, Italy. They found that the 62 bilingual children were “significantly more successful in the tasks set for them“.

The study has been published in the International Journal of Bilingualism.

The Glasgow-based children spoke English and Gaelic, or English only, while the Sardinian cohort spoke either Italian only, or Italian and Sardinian.

Gaelic ‘advantage’

They were asked to reproduce patterns of coloured blocks, to repeat orally a series of numbers, to give clear definitions of words and to resolve mentally a set of arithmetic problems. The tasks were all set in English or Italian.

Researchers found that the bilingual children were “significantly more successful in the tasks set for them”.

There was a marked difference in the level of detail and richness in description from the bilingual pupils”

 Dr Fraser Lauchlan Strathclyde University

They observed that the Gaelic-speaking children were more successful than the Sardinian speakers.

The differences were linked to the mental alertness required to switch between languages, which could develop skills useful in other types of thinking.

The study found that the further advantage for Gaelic-speaking children may have been due to the formal teaching of the language and its extensive literature.

Sardinian is not widely taught in schools on the Italian island and has a largely oral tradition, which means there is currently no standardised form of the language.

The study was conducted by Strathclyde University with colleagues from the University of Cagliari in Sardinia. It was led by Dr Fraser Lauchlan, an honorary lecturer at Strathclyde’s school of psychological sciences.

He said: “Bilingualism is now largely seen as being beneficial to children but there remains a view that it can be confusing, and so potentially detrimental to them.

‘Demonstrable benefits’

“Our study has found that it can have demonstrable benefits, not only in language but in arithmetic, problem solving and enabling children to think creatively.

“We also assessed the children’s vocabulary, not so much for their knowledge of words as their understanding of them. Again, there was a marked difference in the level of detail and richness in description from the bilingual pupils.”

Dr Lauchlan said that the bilingual children were seen to have “an aptitude for selective attention” and an ability to filter and focus on information which is important.

It is thought that this may come from the “code-switching” of thinking in two different languages.

Another story about this can be found at

Investigation of cognitive benefits of bilingualism – Sardinian and Scottish v national languages of Italian and English

The International Journal of bilingualism

has just produced its report Bilingualism in Sardinia and Scotland: Exploring the cognitive benefits of speaking a ‘minority’ language

you can get access to it here

The research reports on a study investigating the cognitive benefits of bilingualism in children who speak the minority languages of Sardinian and Scottish Gaelic, in addition to their respective ‘national’ languages of Italian and English. One hundred and twenty-one children, both bilingual and monolingual, were administered a series of standardised cognitive ability tests targeted at the four areas that have been previously shown to be advantageous to bilingual children in the literature, namely, cognitive control, problem-solving ability, metalinguistic awareness and working memory. The bilingual children significantly outperformed the monolingual children in two of the four sub-tests, and the Scottish children significantly outperformed the Sardinian children in one of the sub-tests. The differences found were largely due to the superior performance of the Scottish bilingual children who receive a formal bilingual education, in contrast to the Sardinian bilingual children who mostly only speak the minority language at home. The implications of the results are discussed.

Italy Has New Bilingual Education Site

Italy has just announced that it will have a new Bilingual Education Site which allows students to look up in either Italian or English the courses available in the country.

They are hoping that local students will also gain from this:

But the introduction of classes taught in English is aimed at local students as well. “We need to enhance the teaching of foreign languages to enable graduates to be more ready for a job market that is increasingly less national and more, at least, European,” Mr. Profumo said

See the rest below or see the original report at:

In an attempt to open up Italian universities to local and international students, Italy’s Education Ministry introduced last Thursday the first bilingual Web site listing all university courses available in the country.

When at full capacity, UniversItaly will enable students to browse — in Italian and in English — the classes offered by Italian colleges, academies, conservatories and technical schools, and compare tuition fees, potential scholarships and services. Officials hope that the site will help students choose their degrees in a more targeted way and lower the rate of dropouts in the first year, which is about 23 percent in Italy.

The visibility given to all universities could trigger greater competition among schools and consequently improve their services.

“This process will break the dam,” the education minister, Francesco Profumo, told reporters in Rome. “Just by announcing that this picture of Italian universities will be made public, courses in English grew by 28 percent.”

Foreign students in Italy are a rare breed, estimated at 3.3 percent, about a third of the average of 8.7 percent among the free-market democracies that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

But the introduction of classes taught in English is aimed at local students as well. “We need to enhance the teaching of foreign languages to enable graduates to be more ready for a job market that is increasingly less national and more, at least, European,” Mr. Profumo said

Through the Web site, foreign students can register to take the admission test for Italian medical schools. Thanks to an agreement with Cambridge, the test will be administered in English next September, and students will be able to take it in several countries, from the United States to China.



‘Independent thinkers’ sought by many schools

According to a survey of British and U.S. admissions officers, universities are looking for “independent thinkers.”

The research, conducted by ACS International Schools, which has three schools in Britain and one in Qatar, is carried out to measure the value of the International Baccalaureate diploma. The study was released July 6 to coincide with the day that I.B. diploma results were announced worldwide.

The survey found that 29 percent of U.S. admissions officers valued a demonstrated capacity for “independent inquiry” above any particular exam result. The next most sought-after quality was “in-depth subject expertise,” cited by 25 percent of respondents.

“American universities are looking first and foremost for students able to challenge conventional thinking and want to see clear evidence of this above all else in the qualifications and written submissions they receive from university applicants,” said Jeremy Lewis of ACS International Schools.

The survey also found that applications to U.S. universities have held up despite the economic downturn, with two-thirds of admissions officers in the United States saying that the number of incoming freshmen was better than expected. This contrasts with the response from Britain, where tuition fees have tripled and where only a quarter of admissions officers said that application numbers exceeded expectations.