Christmas in Italy

Christmas in Italy

In my opinion, Christmas anywhere in the world is magical…. it’s my favourite time of year and I love all the excitement that builds up in our household, mostly as a result of the suspense my children are in as they eagerly await the arrival of Father Christmas! But, as with all things Italian… there is something particularly magical about Christmas in Italy. Michelle Damiani seems to capture it’s essence perfectly in her book, ‘Il Bel Centro‘. She has kindly let us publish an extract here which I think perfectly encapsulates the warmth and hospitality of Christmas in Italy spent amongst friends and family. I also think it perfectly sums up the way in which life in Italy truly does hark back to a simpler time…. no signs of iPads and electronics here, just simple, traditional games to be enjoyed in the company of others. I hope you enjoy reading as much as we do!

My morning Christmas shopping includes a candy spree at the Superconti. I’m sure if I lived here long enough, the stocking stuffer options in Umbria would grow as tired as those in Virginia. But this year, I pick up every item on the shelf to decipher the labels, chuckling to myself. Laden with purchases, I run into Angelo, who hails me from his brother Marcello’s art shop. He tells me that tonight there’s a neighbourhood dinner at Il Trombone, with pizza and a Christmas party game. He and Paola think our family will enjoy it, and I readily agree. After all, Italian Christmas party games are the exact thing I’ve been missing that I didn’t know existed.

When I pick the little ones up from school, I offer them a trip to Olive Wood to select Christmas ornaments. They each choose one, and we exit the shop just in time to see Nicolas starting his way up the hill. Gabe flies down the street into Nicolas’s arms, Siena following closely behind to embrace her big brother. Nicolas wraps his arms around his siblings, then looks up at me with shining eyes.

And that, Charlie Brown, is what Christmas is all about.

During lunch, Siena tells us that for religion class, they are cutting out paper monks and paper clothes. Nicolas says that his English teacher asked him about Christmas traditions in America. He confesses that he didn’t tell her about stockings. He doesn’t know the word, and was worried the class would assume we fill our dirty socks with candy. Well played, young sir.

When we step into Il Trombone, the restaurant is overcrowded and boisterous. All eyes turn toward us, and I immediately empathise with microscope slide specimens. A waitress approaches us with confusion, and I’m too rattled to be comprehensible. As a consequence, she thinks we’re there for dinner, not for the party. Finally, by telling her that Angelo invited us, we’re able to communicate that we are, despite all outward appearances, part of the neighbourhood celebration. She finally understands, but since Angelo hasn’t reserved a table, there isn’t room for us. She begins to set a solitary table on the elevated platform at the entry of the restaurant, next to the table piled with prizes. Thus moving my feeling of being on stage from the figurative to the literal. Luckily, Angelo and Paola arrive just as the table is being arranged. Angelo is apologetic, he hadn’t known there was a need for reservations. He and Paola settle it that the seven of us will sit in the room adjacent to the dining room.

We have the room to ourselves, which allows us to hear Angelo as he describes the game tombola, which sounds like Italian bingo. Players receive a card, and numbers are read randomly. Whoever first gets two numbers on the same line, calls, “Ambo!” and gets a small prize. The game continues. The person who matches three numbers on the same line, calls, “Terno!” Up until a lucky participant fills the card, at which point the winner calls out, “Tombola!” and receives the main prize, which tonight is a painting from Marcello’s shop. We wriggle with excitement as we wait for our pizza.

It’s a long wait. I try to keep Nicolas from gorging on bruschette. A colossal task, since Angelo keeps fetching him more from the kitchen. Finally, some pizza arrives, but after a wait of another ten minutes, we’re informed that that’s it. No more pizza. Keith and I order pasta, and Angelo insists on sharing his pizza with Nicolas. Soon it is 10:00, and I can’t linger to find out if the pasta will arrive. Gabe and Siena are exhausted from last night’s concert, and we reluctantly admit there is no way they’ll be able to stay for the game. 

Worse than leaving hungry is leaving hungry with Gabe crying bitterly all the way home. Rarely have I seen him this disappointed. Finally he swallows his distress, and crawls into bed, yawning audibly. I sing to them, and Siena pipes up, “I feel homesick.” In this moment, my daughter does not get the supportive parent she no doubt deserves. Instead, I remind her that she has been begging for the last half hour to go to sleep, so go to sleep. In a tone of exasperation I either express or just think really loudly. Not a fine parenting moment. Gabe is asleep in 30 seconds.

I stay awake, waiting for Keith and Nicolas who return home at 11:30. As it turns out, they had played our tombola cards for us, and none of us had won a thing. It’s comforting to remind myself that Gabe’s disappointment at leaving pales to what we would’ve gotten an hour later at losing. Also, Angelo told Keith that we’ll be playing tombola on New Year’s, as we’ve been invited to his friends’ Angelo (another Angelo! This one I met in Paola’s shop) and Giuseppina’s. So we will have another chance at tombola. Though if Gabe doesn’t win something, I predict 2013 will begin with a wail of anguish.”

So, if you fancy trying Christmas in Italy for yourselves, let us know. We can help find accommodation in Spello itself which was home to Michelle and her family for a year. This apartment in Spello is a great base for a family of 4 over the Christmas period, whilst this villa in Spello provides a base for a larger group of family and friends. Which leaves me just one thing left to say…. Buon Natale!