Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas Eve!

I hope you are all enjoying a wonderful, peaceful Christmas season. I'm pausing today from blogging on the Greece trip. We have enjoyed once again experiencing an American Christmas, with so many houses putting up outdoor lights, Christmas trees shining in windows, carols on the radio and over store intercoms, lots of Santas around for photo opportunities (that went well for us, not at all), the Salvation Army bell ringers, Angel Trees, lighted boat parades. The list goes on.

But I am greatly missing the Neapolitan presepes. I wrote about the presepes two years ago in Presepe Palooza. I love them so much because, as a Christian, I want Christmas to be about celebrating the birth of Christ. The presepes, even the non-nativity ones, are reminders of the creche and that lowly manger, a sky lit up with angels, and a light shining down on the Light. In Italy, a lot of the Christmas decoration focus is on the presepes and nativity scenes. Very few houses are lit up with lights. I don't recall seeing a single Christmas tree. The nearest place for us to find significant Christmas lights and a festival with booths selling gift items was in Salerno, over an hour's drive away. Or we could visit Gloria, a Christmas shop that was so unique in having trees and lights that in December, especially on weekends, the highway exit for Gloria was hours of waiting in a traffic jam. Imagine a city of one million people having only a couple of Christmas attractions! The focus in Naples is on family, not rushing around to buy the perfect gift or attending craft festivals or yet another party [for the record, I love Christmas parties, and we usually throw one ourselves!]. For Neapolitans, Christmas includes a very traditional meal on Christmas Eve. The menu does not vary. Every family in every home will eat the same meal. While Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) is becoming more popular, the Italian tradition is for La Befana (the Witch) to visit on the eve of Epiphany, January 6, to leave gifts for the children (coal for the naughty ones). La Befana was an old woman with a very clean house. When the Magi passed by, telling her of the birth of the Son of God, she did not go visit Him immediately because she was too busy with her housework. When she did go to find the Child, she could not find him, so today, she is still flying around on her broom looking for Him and leaving gifts for children. Some legends say that she had her broom with her because she intended to clean Mary's house for her. Listen, I can get behind a lady who brings her own broom when she comes visiting.

My greatest, Christmas treasure brought home from Italy
When in Italy, we did not bring our masses of Christmas decorations. We had a simple, tabletop tree with our most favorite ornaments. Each year, our landlady brought us a small gift of fruit, homemade limoncello, and some type of nativity - my favorite was a beautiful nativity scene painted by her niece on a piece of wood. It is truly one of my Christmas treasures. Our first Thanksgiving in Italy, we visited Alberobello. While there, we greatly admired a paper mache of the Holy Family displayed in our room. We'd seen others for sale in town, but the one in our trulli house was the most beautiful. Upon checkout, we asked if we could purchase it. The hotel owner agreed, and we are now the proud owners of a Holy Family set produced by one of the most skilled artisans of Puglia in the old craft. He is now deceased, and there were only six remaining Holy Family works of his left for sale in all of Puglia. Our third, Italian treasure is a handmade, hanging angel. On Christmas Alley in Centro Napoli, Christmas Alley so named only by the Americans because it's full of presepe artisans, I once spent an entire morning visiting all the shops making angels. Some are cheap looking. Some are incredibly detailed and cost upwards of 400euros. After much comparison, I found my favorite artisan with affordable angels that have gorgeous faces. Their heads are hand painted terra cotta, eyes of glass, gowns of silk.

Christmas in Italy was low key, with our first Christmas spent hosting family and spending the Christmas Eve in Rome following Midnight (10pm) Mass at the Vatican, our second enjoying the hospitality of our landlords for the traditional, Christmas Eve dinner, and our third in Scotland. Each year, we picked one or two events to attend. We had to have all gifts in the mail by Thanksgiving in order to ensure pre-Christmas delivery, so our shopping was finished very early. In all, I found the lack of pressure to decorate and bake and cook and shop so refreshing that we have done our best to continue with that feeling. We did quite a bit more decorating this year in order to enjoy items we haven't seen in years, but we stopped decorating when we started feeling overwhelmed. The little baking I've done has been fairly simple (and sadly, all three cookie varieties I've made to date have been really disgusting - time to return to the classics and stop experimenting with Pinterest cookie suggestions). We've nixed any plans for a fancy, labor intensive meal and will be preparing crockpot chili for Christmas Eve. We instituted a suggestion for each other (and for Nora's gifts) of following this gift plan: "One thing you Want, One thing you Need, One thing to Wear, One thing to Read." We did stretch it with Nora, though. After all, last year we gave her one gift - a stuffed reindeer head attached to a small blanket that I'd bought on clearance the summer before for $4. True story.

I've tried to take my favorite parts of an American Christmas and an Italian Christmas and meld the two to create what works for our family. Some December days this has worked...and some it has not (especially the day I was supposed to take cookies to my Mom group meeting, still had the bake them, Nora slept late, ate her breakfast at glacier pace, and then took the 45 seconds I had remaining to dress her and get out the door to somehow get poop on my blue jeans - which is to say that my efforts to stay calm at Christmas time are not always successful). I hope this Christmas Eve finds you in a place of peace and joy and calm.

No comments:

Post a Comment