Monday, December 24, 2012

Preparations....the Essence of Christmas

Home Sweet Home
 I wrote this 3 years ago, and it is still so true, I cannot say any more, except that my friendships, my Italian family, my life and my Christmas in Florence gets richer and deeper every year!

Anticipating and getting ready for Christmas in Florence still feels like a welcome trip into the past, into the days when things were more simple, more pure, less commercial, less materialistic, more based on emotions, spirit, curiosity and learning, communicating, singing, laughing, sharing, hugging, smiling.

Everything happens here on a local level, in your own neighborhood, at the market, in familiar places with familiar faces. No malls, no chain stores, no franchises, no lines, no road rage, no parking lot acrobatics. Pure. Simple. Friendly. Organ and choral music emanating from churches, bells ringing, accordians and violins playing in the streets, lights everywhere. Artisan merchants selling their wares, their handmade clothes, their handmade jewelry, their antique book collections. And oh, the lights!
The salumeria selling salami, prosciutto, mortadalla, the forno selling fresh bread of every kind, the pasticerria selling mouth watering torte, panettone, pandora, the ortolana selling exotic vegetables, figs, dates, chestnuts, zucchini, the macelleria selling whole baby pigs, capon, pheasant to deck the middle of the Christmas table, chickens stuffed roasts of every kind, sausages with every conceivable kind of filling, fresh pastas of every shape, the pescheria selling fresh fish and scoglio for the Viglia ,

And the librerie many bookstores in Florence! They seem to be on every single street. I am fascinated and so proud to be living in a place where there are so many book stores. Each one is unique and specializes in a different genre, subject or theme. If all these people weren't reading so much, those book stores would be out of business. It makes me feel good to know that I am living in a city where the mom and pop bookstores are and important, integral part of life here. They are always crowded with all kinds of people.....old men, young boys, wives, students.

The tourists have completely disappeared and all that's left are the real people who live and work here. The air is fresh, and just cold enough to bundle up without freezing. I never realized how much I missed the cold weather until now. I thought that 5 years of living in California had made me a spoiled weather wimp. But I have built back my tolerance to the cold little by little.  I am happy to re-discover again the truth of the matter....I had been missing the seasons for a long time, and getting them back is a gift. Finally I can appreciate Christmas again the way I knew it all my life. Cold. Dynamic. Illuminated. There is nothing that can compete with that feeling of seeing Florence covered with snow and feeling the cold flakes touch and melt on your face in the silent night luminated by the reflections of snow everywhere.

Finding the right gifts for the few but important people on my shopping list was a pleasure, as I identified with a new kind of gift giving that is different than in the U.S. For instance, here, a 10 year old boy would appreciate receiving a gift consisting of a book or CD of Giovanni Allevi, whereas in America most boys would prefer something more computerized and sophisticated, not to mention exponentially more expensive. People here seem easy to please. In my experience, Christmas in Italy is actually more focused on buying food rather than gifts. Festiggiando con abbondonza, eating with their families, the act of cooking together, cleaning up together, taking a walk after dinner together, playing Tombola together....being with the family and bringing them together with food. Christmas in Italy is less materialistic, more spiritual, more sensual, more real. The way it was when I was a kid. I'm thankful for getting it back!

Presentation is not as important here as it is for us in the U.S. Italians do not wrap their gifts as elaborately as we do. They do not set their tables as perfectly as we do. Those who have Christmas trees don't care if it isn't perfectly balanced or if it's got bare spots. Even for those that do have trees, the prespe is still the priority tradition. We always had a presepe, although it was not very ornate, it was still an Italian-American tradition that we loved.