[Ed. note– The following piece, written by Signal Tribune intern Andrea Ciccolini, was only lightly edited, in an effort to preserve his “voice” and writing style, as he makes the transition into learning English while interning here from Italy.]
It’s Christmas. It is impossible to prescind from Christmas during Christmas time; it is like a social unwritten rule. I am talking about the most famous, important, celebrated and consumerist festivity in the world.
To run away from Christmas is almost impossible. Paying a lot of money, you can travel during Christmas days. Doing this, you can run away from relatives and friends (it can be a good thing), but you cannot run away from Christmas. The red hat with the white pompom will follow you everywhere. Maybe you can be safe from Santa Claus just in some Arabic country.
But most people love this period, and they don’t want to run away. They want to enjoy and feel every moment of the magic, white atmosphere, which covers everything during December.
Before Christmas lights and wreaths start to decorate streets and stores. The music changes, and the people begin to croon Christmas carols. Commercials become red and white, like Santa Claus’s clothes. The snow, real or fake, it does not matter, covers trees, houses, gardens and stores. Children, and not only them, start thinking about presents. At the same time, Santa Claus’s elves start overworking, and commercial companies start calculating profits. And someone affirms to take in the smell of Christmas. Children are excited, adults less.
A few days ago after cooking lasagna with and for some friends, I was in the balcony of my apartment watching the Christmas lights inside the complex and I was thinking about this strange period of the year. I was thinking that this will be my first Christmas far from Italy. As I kept thinking about Christmas, I felt that there was a big difference between the Christmas period in Italy and that in California.
For example, in Italy, Santa Claus has to share the lights of the stage with newborn Jesus. The influence of the Vatican is very strong and powerful in my country and we give much more importance to the religious meaning of Christmas than in the U.S. where there are a lot of different religious confessions.
It is possible to see this influence in the fact that in every Italian house there is the Christmas tree but also the Christmas crib. And several times the Christmas crib is much more important than the tree. In every church there is a Christmas crib and it is not rare to find someone who acts in the animated crib. Another example of the Vatican influence in Italy is the midnight Christmas ceremony. Every church, from the oldest to the newest, is crowded.
The strong religious dimension of Christmas in Italy does not mean that it is not a consumerist festivity. Like here, in this period, stores are full of people who are looking for presents to give, often times to pesky relatives. The streets are full of traffic, and the people are full of stress.
Another big difference between Italian and Californian Christmas is that here everybody wears something that refers to this period. This is more true in the places where there is contact with the customer and in the parties. Yes, the Christmas parties, totally different from one side to the other of the Atlantic Ocean. Here there are just normal parties, the difference is only in the Christmas environment and in the exchange of presents– the moment when “recycling presents” becomes an art. In Italy, it is not so common to wear Christmas clothes, and the most important moment of the party is the gambling. There are gambling games with traditional Italian cards that we play only in the period of Christmas. We play with money also in the traditional, and, boring, according to me, is Christmas Bingo.
But, these are not the big differences I was feeling in the balcony of my apartment.
Watching the Christmas lights, I have noticed that in Italy there are much more lights on the streets and less outside of the houses.
But this is not the difference I was looking for.
In Italy, there is not a Christmas-tree lot on every corner of the streets. If you want to buy an Italian Christmas tree, you have to know where a place is that sells firs.
But this is not the difference I was looking for either.
And yet I was sure that I was missing something obvious.
Going back inside of the apartment, I saw myself reflected in the glass of the window.
And, finally, I got it. I was in the balcony wearing just a shirt and some shorts. Impossible to do the same in Italy where Christmas also means a winter of cold and snow.
Anyways, it can be cold or warm, you can wear typical clothes or not, you can hate it or love it, but it is really coming. And it is Christmas. So, get ready.