Buon Natale da Italia

Castellina in Chianti

‘Tis the season and William and I are enjoying our first Christmas together in Italy. We were looking forward to sleeping late this Saturday, but all hopes are dashed as I am jolted into consciousness just before 8AM by a roving band of zampogna (Italian bagpipe) players. Early morning fanfare is the norm in our neighborhood; car horns, traffic whistles, marching bands, scooters, church bells… But the bagpipes are dusted off specifically for Natale and Billy and I have been “enjoying” them for over a week with no signs of reprieve. I don’t dislike bagpipes, dear Reader, though I do think them a bold choice for announcing the break of day.

Getting Our Christmas On
Like it or not, our day has begun. After breakfast William hangs our stockings and adorns the balcony with Christmas lights. The Italians don’t stick to the stringent Christmas color palette we Americans do, so our balcony radiates little buds of blue and green light. It feels foreign, but no less joyful.

At a friend’s suggestion, Billy and I make our way to a florist in the port of Naples hoping to find a real Christmas tree. The neighborhood is dodgy, even by Napoli standards, but the florist does have live trees as promised. We survey the options: three stout alberi with the roots still attached. Not exactly the majestic fir I had in mind but we are in Southern Italy after all. We select a tree and the florist couldn’t be happier; Our first tree as a married couple?! Living in Pozzuoli?! Perfetto!

We ask the World’s Friendliest Florist if he can cut the tree at the stem. He agrees but with some reluctance. How will the tree remain upright, he asks? I donated my tree stand when I left Boston, assuming – as I did with many other things – I could simply purchase another one in Italy (HA!). A quick glance around the shop confirms my suspicions; Italy doesn’t “do” tree stands. The florist suggests we keep the roots on the tree and offers us a black bucket in which to plunk it. Hmm… Sensing my hesitation, he also graciously offers us some red cellophane to wrap around the bucket. Va bene! 

As his assistant places the tree in William’s Alfa Romeo, the florist speaks enthusiastically about the neighborhood. He warns us not to believe what people say, it isn’t full of drugs and prostitution (“Non è vero!”). Billy assures him we had no such assumptions and, in fact, we heard there was a lovely church nearby. The florist’s face brightens as he confirms that, yes, there is a beautiful church nearby – “È incredible!” We shake hands, parting like old friends.

With the top of our tree jutting between us and the Bucket O’ Christmas in my lap, Billy and I drive home, eager to set up our first tree.

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Stepping Out With Santa
With our Christmas tree (sort of) securely in place, Billy and I decide to break for dinner at nearby Cipster. Billy insists on bringing “Santa”: a plushy, hollow figurine filled with holiday candies. I cannot remember how or when Santa came into my life, but he’s been around for years spreading joy and sugar.

Our friends at the restaurant happily indulge in the proffered American goodies. The Reeses are an especially big hit and even the cook emerges to pocket a few for later. The owner is incredibly kind (as always), gently correcting our grammar and telling us about Italian holiday traditions. As I polish off my pizza, I notice our neighbor Giorgio placing a pick-up order at the host stand. I wave him over and inquire about his holiday plans. He’s had some health issues recently so he and Rosaria have decide to take it easy at home this year. I nod approvingly.

Standing at the bar along the window are three older ladies eating pizza. They finish quickly, throw on their jackets, and head towards the port.

“Those ladies are heading out!” Billy exclaims.

I smile. Italy doesn’t hide its elderly the way we do in the States. From morning to night the corners, cafes, and shops are full of older people.

“Well, not us. We have a tree to decorate!” I reply.

Later that evening while snuggling up on the couch, I admire our yuletide handiwork. The Christmas tree, now adorned with our carefully selected ornaments, is ever so slightly tilted with its uneven branches extending in all directions. It’s not unlike our life here in Napoli: unpolished, mostly improvised, and decidedly quirky. And also like our life here, it lends color and warmth to our days.

William and I have made great holiday memories this year – a weekend in Tuscany, an evening at Teatro Bellini with wonderful friends, and seeing the famed light installations of Salerno (Luci d’Artista) to name a few. Still, these quiet moments close to home are what make the season sparkle for me. Wishing you a lovely holiday, dear Reader, and a New Year full of adventure!

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