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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Remembering Christmas in Italy

Here we are, my family and I, on our eleventh Christmas in the USA. For the first time we receive the Italian TV channels and that increases our nostalgia. Actually I should say my husband's nostalgia and mine, because our son doesn't miss Italy.
I miss Christmas in Rome, with the life size Nativity in Vatican Square. On TV I'm watching Piazza di Spagna at night (over there it's already late, six hours later than here). White Christmas lights are wrapped around the trees and shining decoration is hanging from the branches like fruit.

My son was nine years old at the time of our last Christmas in Italy, and I took him to every Nativity display both in Rome and Naples, so that he could have some memories. Unfortunately he doesn't remember much, but I do remember the huge villages full of shepherds dressed in real fabric in Santa Chiara Monastery, and most of all the live Nativity with camels, elephants and sheep at Naples' harbor. What a night, and what beautiful songs!

We do our best to recreate the Italian Christmas atmosphere. My husband and I have built a typically Neapolitan Nativity in our living-room. I painted on carton board a night sky full of stars and high mountains dotted with small houses. We struggled with aluminum foil to make it look like a stream. Dipping brown paper in a bucket of liquid glue, he made papier-mâché hills, a lake, and of course a barn where, according to the tradition, Mary gave birth to Jesus.
It might seem awkward to you, but the Neapolitan Nativity, which in Italy is called Presepe, also includes a restaurant complete with chunks of prosciutto and mozzarella hung from the ceiling. We brought our hand-made terracotta figures from our country, and besides the classic Nativity characters we have two small terracotta tables with people sitting around them, happily having dinner. Jesus, as you probably know, loved to share good meals with his disciples, so the pizzeria is not so out of place after all!

My husband and son like to keep the Presepe tradition going, but their are not believers. However, this last Christmas I felt that something was changing. My husband found on U-Tube the Neapolitan version of an old Christmas song and kept listening to it all day long. He said that it was touching, because it showed that Baby Jesus was a human baby born in a magic world where, although it was winter,  flowers were blossoming, birds were singing and sheperds were waking up in the middle of the night at the beat of their heart. I thought what he said was important because, from personal experience, I would say that the first step towards faith is to understand Jesus' humanity. Isn't it for this reason that he became man?

Our son also manifested his will to take an important step. He said that when he's done with studying he will read the Gospels, and he will do it with an open mind. I hope he will perceive Jesus' humanity, his frustration and his suffering. I hope that next Christmas will mark another step towards faith for them.
Here in the States Christmas is fun because of the outdoor lights that decorate people's houses, but there isn't much to see about the Nativity. To preserve the spirit of Christmas I sculpted the one you see right here, on the right.
Merry Christmas to all! See you next week.

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