I asked the women in my English class what they thought was the difference between an American and an Umbrian Christmas. (In respect to my friend, Simone, from Milan, I will now try to strike Italian and use Umbrian when I am describing my experiences here.) The class was stumped, probably because they had never experienced an American Christmas. I said, from what you see you your TV programs, what do you think is the difference? They decided that the main thing was probably that Christmas is more religious in Umbria. That pretty much sums it up. I asked if they had Santa Claus deliver presents at Christmas. They said now they do, but when they were kids they didn't have Santa Claus, it is not an Italian tradition. Did they have presents on Christmas day? Yes. Who delivered them? The baby Jesus. For some reason the image of this cracked me up. No more silly than flying reindeers but the thought of the baby Jesus whizzing around...
Here are some things that I have noticed about Christmas in Umbria:
1. People don't have live Christmas trees…unless they are wrapped in a big linen ball and ready to be planted. The tradition of tromping off to a Christmas tree farm, taking the tree out of the lot into the car, finding that it is too high for the ceiling, having to whack away at it so it will fit in the Christmas stand, doesn't seem to be an Umbrian tradition. We have one huge live Christmas in our main piazza.It is beautiful with bright blue lights. Watching them bring that tree in through the arch, stand it up with one of the cranes, and putting its base in place is one of my December joys.
2. Not too many Christmas wreaths on the doors. I brought my wreath hanger from Oakland, anxious to put up my Christmas wreath. Several problems. First the outside door, is everyone's door and is about 5,000 years old. Second, my own personal door is heavy enough to withstand a medieval battering ram. The wreath hanger is way too small. I could put a nail in my door and hang it, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. No Christmas wreath. Maybe next year I will figure a way to hang in in the window.
I joined the crowd and got an artificial Christmas tree. The Stoic One calls it a Christmas twig.
3. There are not a lot of Christmas cards for sale, and the ones I found are all really tacky and in English. Hmmm. I started making my own cards, using iPhoto and pictures we had taken.
4. Christmas does not feel like a frenzy here. There are Christmas concerts, the stores are open longer but it feels pretty calm and easy. The big thing about Christmas in Umbria is FOOD!
What a surprise. So when I was a kid, we used to get boxes of Panettone sent to us in Michigan. By the time it arrived, it redefined dry. Even with ice cream and whipped cream, we pretty much couldn't eat it. So I viewed the Panettone here with a bit of suspicion. The woman at the rosticerie gave me a taste, and it was delicious. Can't wait for Adelle to get here tomorrow so we can open it!
I did get another little tree for the family room. It looks like it is growning out of the urn.
The big festivity here is making a presepio (nativity scene). There are major competitions for who has the best ones. They even have living nativity scenes with the baby Jesus put in on Christmas Day. Manuele said they have animals and everything. I asked if they had camels, and he looked at me as if I were daft. No, he said, they have Umbrian animals. Right.
Here is my presepio that I got in Santa Fe New Mexico.