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While "La Befana" the female Santa Claus of Italy, is the traditional choice for holiday cheer, many Italian children today set their hopes on "Babbo Natale", the male version of "Old St. Nick". But no matter which holiday visitor is expected from the North Pole, the Italian Christmas Eve features the same joyful traditions from year to year. First, the candles are lighted. Then, the "Urn of Fate" is produced with much fanfare. This handsome vessel is overflowing with packages for every member of the family. Everyone may take a turn, however, Mother always gets to draw for the first present. Then others may try, but they can only open the package they've drawn if it has their name on it! You can imagine the jolly scene as packages are drawn again and again until everyone has their own gift in hand. The job of "La Befana" and "Babbo Natale" comes later in the evening, after Italy's famous "Feast of Three Kings". Italian youngsters set out their shoes or hang stockings for Santa to fill once they are asleep! Who wouldn't look forward to a visit from a happy gift- bearer like our "Babbo Natale"? His bright red robe features embroidered borders and cuffs, and his golden staff wonderfully complements the gold trim on his belt and tasseled cap. He carries a shoulder bag full of won- derful treats and little presents, everything from puppets and fruit for the little ones to vintage Italian wine for Mother and Father!
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