Christmas Holiday Traditions Open House Nov. 19-20

The story of La Befana is featured in the Italian Gallery of the Ethnic Heritage Museum. (Photo provided)

Staff Report

The Ethnic Heritage Museum, 1129 S. Main St., Rockford will host its Holiday Traditions Open House from noon to 4 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 19 and Sunday, Nov. 20. Cost is $3 per adult, $5 per family, and $2 for students. Members of the museum are admitted free; donations are appreciated. The museum is handicap accessible.

The public is invited to visit six ethnic galleries to see their holiday decorations and celebrations. The African-American Gallery features a doll tree decorated with earth-tone ornaments and Black Angels. These African-American angels are on loan from Jacci Mannery.

The Hispanic Gallery features a La Posada creche and a poinsettia tree. The Irish Gallery includes a creche, holly decorations and traditional window candles.

The Italian Gallery features a Ceppo and La Befana. The Ceppo varies according to traditions in various places. In some areas, it refers to a Yule log with many significant meanings, including purification of the fire, the image of the sun, and symbolic burning away of accumulated evils. Sometimes children would be blindfolded and given a long stick to strike the burning log, causing sparks to fly up the chimney. In other places, the Ceppo is a pyramid-shaped wooden structure forming a tiered tree that contains three to five shelves. The shelves and frame would be decorated with fringe or fancy paper. On the bottom shelf, the family would display their treasured “Presepio” (creche or Nativity scene). The other shelves would contain greenery, fruit, nuts and presents. The Presepio would represent the gift of God, the fruit and nuts would represent the gifts of the Earth, and the presents would represent the gifts of man. At the top of the Ceppo was an angel, star or pineapple, which represents hospitality. Some families would attach candles on the outside of each shelf and light them, making the Ceppo a “Tree of Light.”

According to legend, La Befana was an old lady who was busily sweeping her house on the 12th night of Christmas (Jan. 6) when the three Wise Men, searching for the baby Jesus, knocked on her door. They asked her to show them the way to Bethlehem, but she said she was much too busy. Later, feeling remorse, she tried to follow them but was unable to find them. It is said that because she felt so sad, she continues to travel throughout Italy at Christmas time, searching for the Christ Child. She is said to travel on a magic broom, leaving candy or fruit for good children, and black coal, onions or garlic for the children who were naughty.

The Lithuanian Gallery has a tree with handmade straw ornaments. The Polish Gallery has an antique ornament tree and a Christmas house.

Ethnic Heritage Museum is open every Sunday from 2-4 p.m. through Dec. 18. Pre-arranged group tours may be scheduled other days by calling (815) 962-7402.

From the  Nov. 16-22, 2011, issue

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