Christmas in the Piedmontese tradition


This morning I heard Gelindo being mentioned… and I began to wonder who this Piedmontese Christmas character was and what he represented!

In Piedmont, in ancient times, the winter solstice was celebrated in honor of the Sun and Mithras,

from the Roman Legions that came here. Julius Caesar remembers him in “De bello gallico”. In Pollenzo, Susa, Ivrea, Benevagienna, Asti, etc.. there are traces of worship of these deities. Surely there was a lot of “profane” in these celebrations, with excessive drinking and transgressions!

After the advent of Christianity, there are still traces of these adorations, for example in Val d’Aosta, Val Pellice and Valli Occitane where they continued to decorate the trees as the Celtic traditions.

In Piedmont there are many traditions handed down or told.

In the Vercelli area, cutting an apple had the predictions for the future, in the Turin area it was done with an egg white. Until not long ago, at the market in Corso Racconigi, which represented the customs border of the city, lambs brought by shepherds were embellished and Seiràs, a sweet ricotta cheese, was eaten. After midnight mass, on the other hand, the Vin Brulè, a very full-bodied red wine, warmed up together with spices and citrus peel, was very popular: Corroborante!

Each family, in the Monferrato area, went to church at midnight leaving the window open, so if the Holy Family passed through there they could enter and rest. On the way back, the family arranged the gifts. The youngest child added the statue of the Child Jesus to the Nativity scene. The statuettes were strictly added to the Nativity scene little by little: first shepherds and craftsmen, in the following days Mary and Joseph, at Christmas the Child, on January 6 the Magi.

During the 12 days from 26 December to 6 January, the weather forecast for the whole year (sophisticated forecasts!!!) was available.

In the Biella area, the oil from the Christmas mass lamps was kept. It was used in case of calamity.

The oldest man in the family lit a candle at Christmas, in the province of Cuneo. If the flame bent, the harvest would have been abundant. Otherwise… another meagre year!

There are many Christmas songs, called Nouvet, which are handed down to the Christmas tradition of the province of Cuneo and the province of Turin. A lot of contamination also came from Provence and the Rhone Valley, entering from the Argentera area.

But there are also many Christmas carols, which preceded the midnight mass, which have affinity with the English carols and with the German “Weihnachtslieder” or with the Romanian “colinde”.

But let’s come to the character who sparked my research!

Gelindo, a typical character of the popular Christmas theatrical representations.

Gelindo is the Piedmontese shepherd, especially from Monferrato. He usually moves from Monferrato to obey the decree of Augustus. As he goes, he crosses “signur” Joseph with Mary, and would like to invite them to his house, since they have difficulty finding accommodation, but his house is a little ‘far away …

You can see that the local traditions meet with the stories of the Gospel. But Gelindo was so important that it was said “a ven Gelindo” to say that Christmas was coming. Gelindo was important in the Nativity, among the shepherds.

Dogliani: Immagine della natività nel Presepe vivente
Presepe vivente

The Nativity scene is still very important in the Piedmontese tradition today. Many representations are held in countries throughout Piedmont, sometimes involving a large part of the population!

There are many and I remember only a few! Dogliani, Frabosa, Roccaforte Mondovì, Grugliasco, Castelnuovo Scrivia, San Damiano, Cirié and many others. Suggestive and full of wonderful atmospheres.

To conclude, a curiosity. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, near Chivasso, there was a village called Bethlehem. The reason for the name is not known, perhaps a stable with an ox and a donkey and people called it the hut of Bethlehem. Who knows?

However, there is also a Bethlehem in Italy: we think well and we attract angels and blessings even in Piedmont!


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