As darkness creeps in on December 7th, the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (on the 8th), the men of the Comunità Montana (Forestry Service) light a huge bonfire in front of the massive 14th-century Papal fortress La Rocca Maggiore towering over Assisi. They roast sausages on the fire and offer them with hot mulled wine to “the locals” gathered around the fire. According to tradition, this bonfire lights the way for the angels who are flying in Mary’s home from Nazareth!
In fact, during the night of December 7th, la Madonna will stop at each Assisi home, leaving a simple gift for the children. In the past (and in the 1970′s when we moved here – and when Italy was still largely an agricultural economy), the gifts were only basic clothing needs such as socks, underwear, perhaps gloves – in harmony with the saying (in Umbrian dialect) Chi si rinnova per Maria, sgrampola da ogni malattia (“whoever renews – ie, replaces old clothes with new – for Maria, escapes all illnesses”).
Our children used to wake up on December 8th to find new socks or underwear, a scarf or gloves, next to their pillows. One year on December 8th, our Giulia returned home from elementary school quite mystified by the new bicycle that one of her friends had received from la Madonna – “and not clothes as she should have, Mamma. I guess la Madonna made a mistake!”
Nowadays, la Madonna might bring an I-POD, a digital camera or a new cell phone to a child. More “Madonna mistakes”?!