Family Heritage Holidays Tradition

Our Lady of the Snow, Christmas, and Heritage

When it comes to gifts, I always try to give something meaningful. Whether it is Christmas, a birthday, or a “just because,” gift, I always do what I can to give a thoughtful item. So when Christmas came around this year, I really wanted to do something special.

I decided to give something related to my family’s heritage. I first looked up the patron saint of the hometown of the majority of my family, Calabritto, in the province of Avellino and the region of Campania. The town actually has two patron saints; Saint Joseph and Our Lady of the Snow.

Now I’ll admit, Saint Joseph was already very familiar to me. The feast day of March 19th is celebrated by many Americans of Italian descent, however, Our Lady of the Snow, well, that was a new one to me. As I began to do my research, I was astounded with my findings.

As the legend goes, an elderly couple wanted to use their wealth to honor Mother Mary, as they had to children to leave an inheritance. They prayed to the Mother Mary for guidance. The evening of August 4th, Mary appeared appeared to the couple, as well as the Holy Father, Pope Liberius, directing them to build a church in her honor. She would send them a sign where it should be built.

The morning of August 5th, snow fell on Esquiline Hill. The couple, with the blessing and support of Pope Liberius, built a church in Mary’s honor and it was known as Madonna della Neve, in English as Our Lady of Snow.

Many small towns in Italy celebrate this event, including Calabritto, where the Santuario di Maria SS. della Neve di Calabritto is located. I also learned there is a United States-based shrine dedicated to Our Lady of the Snow. It’s location? Belleville… except this one is in Illinois.

So let’s see, my family that immigrated from Calabritto, settled in Newark for roughly half a century, then moved to Belleville (New Jersey), and I was married on… you guessed it. August 5th.

Our Lady of the Snow rosary
The three rosaries I purchased for the women in my family.

I felt like I had my own little miracle. That this story was just sitting there, waiting for me to find it. I felt truly blessed.

With this information tucked in my brain, I set out to find someone who could make me three unique sets of rosary beads with a devotion to Our Lady of the Snow. I found a wonderful religious artist on Etsy who was able to accommodate my request. She made me three sets of rosary beads; one for my Aunt, one for my cousin, and one for my niece.

On Christmas, as I handed out the gifts, I told them to “open, don’t read,” as I included a prayer card to the devotion of Our Lady of the Snow with each rosary. They opened their little boxes and I explained the story of Our Lady and all the symbolism I discovered along they way. They were appreciative of the gift, but I believe they appreciated the research and story behind it more.

And I never would’ve known any of this had I not thought about finding a meaningful Christmas gift. You never know where your family history and heritage will lead you.

Here’s to hoping you find your own family miracle.

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