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THE CHRISTMAS "STRENNA"

December is the month of the Christmas "strenna".

But what does this word mean? What are its origins? And how has it evolved over the centuries?


The Christmas "strenna" is not a generic gift, but a real act of courtesy and attention. It’s a way to remember and thank the people who receive it, a special way to communicate respect and gratitude.


WHAT IS THE ETYMOLOGY OF THE WORD STRENNA?

"Strenna" is a word that dates back to the time of Ancient Rome. It comes from the Latin "strena" which means "gift for good omen", a meaning that has undoubtedly maintained over time.

In Ancient Rome, during the holidays called Saturnalia in honor of the God Saturn - which were celebrated during the month of December, usually from 17 to 23 (https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturnali) - they exchanged gifts of a propitiatory and copiousness nature (usually laurel, mistletoe and votive statuettes).

Some historians attribute the etymology of the word "strenna" to the Goddess Strenia (https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strenia), a Roman deity, symbol of the new year, prosperity and good luck.

This tradition, typical of the Saturnalia festivals, was rather transversal as it concerned not only the wealthy classes, but also the poorest, including the slaves who, during this time of the year, were allowed to participate in the exchange of gifts as a sign of benevolence.


WHAT WAS THE CHRISTMAS STRENNA IN ANCIENT ROME?

The ancient Romans used to exchange baskets of dried fruit and spices. A custom that has been maintained over time and that still characterizes the Christmas strenna: giving food continues to be a common and appreciated trend.

In the essay "The Christmas Present. History of an invention" by the sociologist Martyne Perrot, it is described how, until the nineteenth century, the word "strenna" was used more than the word "gift". This was due to the fact that the strenne had an unusual peculiarity in the world of objects: according to tradition, it was believed that they fell from the sky, that they had therefore a supernatural and magical origin (the same magic atmosphere that later on would be inherited by the christian Christmas).

It’s also interesting to know that, in ancient time, the Christmas strenna was not wrapped. This custom was born at the end of the 19th century, a period in which the need for surprise and unveiling arose.




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