Childrens Book Review of Merry Christmas Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola, Number Four in the Series

by DerdriuMarriner

Even grandma witches like breaks from spells. They look forward to days off. But everything still must get done for villagers to wish sincerely "Merry Christmas, Strega Nona."

Italians in the diaspora and the homeland embrace extended Christmas seasons.

They enjoy festive and religious observances over the course of six weeks. The holidays go:
• from the four weeks of l’Avvento (Advent);
• through the two days of la Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve) and il Natale (Christmas);
• to the two weeks (short two days) preceding l’Epifania (Epiphany).
They lend themselves to three gift-giving occasions:
• Dec. 5 – 6 by Santa Claus’s role model, San Nicola di Bari (Saint Nicholas, 270 – 343);
• Dec. 24 – 25 by Babbo Natale (Father Christmas);
• Jan. 5 – 6 by Old Befana.

Extended Christmas seasons mean lots of baking, making, and shopping, even for a witch who gives up magic in “Merry Christmas, Strega Nona.”




Babbo Natale: Italy's Santa Claus

Christmas traditions
Christmas traditions


Some people get time off during the year’s-end holidays. Others go to work as usual. Calabria’s grandmotherly witch, Strega Nona, has enough of a solid and spiritual-minded customer base to be able to defer her work hours and load. She holds as magical and miraculous the entire holiday season of:

  • Advent through Epiphany;
  • The Eves and Days of Saint Nicholas on December 5 – 6, Christmas on December 24 – 25 and Epiphany on January 5 – 6.

She therefore is adamant about practicing no magic for the last four weeks of the current year (and possibly the first two weeks of the next). The decision leaves every villager unprotected by lotions and potions for emotional upsets and physical distresses.


In "Merry Christmas, Strega Nona," Big Anthony seems to have been distracted from securing items on Strega Nona's list by a Christmas show of Venetian puppets in the town square:

sad Venetian puppet in a store window
Piazza San Marco, Venice, northeastern Italy
Piazza San Marco, Venice, northeastern Italy


Strega Nona’s seemingly off-again, on-again non-use and use of magic bewilder Big Anthony. Big Anthony cannot comprehend why she subjects herself -- and Bambolona and him --  to the work of:

  • Getting the garden cultivated and harvested;
  • Keeping the house cleaned and organized.

He particularly does not fathom Strega Nona’s considering:

  • Magic something to be employed as a resource when all else fails for its practitioner;
  • Work something to be used as inherently good for its doer.

But he ends up understanding the reasons and the results of:

  • Bambolona assisting her unappreciative father, Signore Bambo, during the bakery’s super-hectic, super-stressed holiday season;
  • Strega Nona committing to having gift-giving, household-keeping, and meal-planning realized the old-fashioned, traditional, villager way.


In "Merry Christmas, Strega Nona," Big Anthony disappoints Strega Nona by forgetting to soak cod, so the fish is "stiff as a board":

Salted cod filets are favorites for fish-based, festive dishes in Italy.
cod filets in Italy
cod filets in Italy



The miracle of community, family, love, spirituality, and tradition fills all of the bold, colorful illustrations and every one of the endearing, entertaining terms in Merry Christmas, Strega Nona. Administrators, librarians, researchers, and teachers usually identify for this fifth, holiday cheer- and humor-filled adventure in Tomie dePaola’s Grandma Witch Nona series a literacy level of:

  • Ages 4 – 8 years and upward;
  • Grades kindergarten through third grade and onward.

But in fact the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt publication from 1991 lends itself beautifully to formal perusal and informal scrutiny by parents, readers, and teachers of all ages in pursuit of resources for:

  • Cultural enrichment;
  • Christmas gift-giving and stocking-stuffer lists;
  • Educational entertainment;
  • Family fun;
  • Holiday customs;
  • Italian language-learning;
  • Literary analysis.


Merry Christmas, Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola

Strega Nona returns with her bumbling assistant, Big Anthony, and Bambolona, the baker’s daughter, in time for the big Christmas Eve feast.
Tomie dePaola's Strega Nona stories



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


In "Merry Christmas, Strega Nona," Strega Nona trudges diligently but sadly downhill for Christmas mass; after blessing the Bambino in the crèche, she trudges slowly and sadly back upslope to her small home, not knowing that a festive surprise awaits her.

Livinallongo del Col di Lana, Veneto, northeastern Italy
Livinallongo del Col di Lana, Veneto, northeastern Italy

Sources Consulted


"About Tomie." Retrieved December 23, 2014.

  • Available at:

dePaola, Tomie. 1986. Merry Christmas, Strega Nona.  Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers.


the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

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American Classics - Sweater Shirt 2
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Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 01/03/2022, DerdriuMarriner
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