102. Natale

Christmas in Italy is famously a low-key affair, at least in comparison to America. Actually, Christmas everywhere is a low-key affair compared to here, where consumerism rules the roost. In Italy, it’s traditionally been limited to the Feast of the Seven Fishes Christmas Eve, Mass, and a few gifts for the children on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, when La Befana, an old woman regretful at passing up the chance to join the magi making their way to Baby Jesus, walks through the countryside searching for him and leaving gifts for all the small children on her way.

When I think of Italian Christmas, my thoughts first go to the beautiful presepe, or nativity scenes, and ornaments that are hand-crafted in Naples. Every year, I make the pilgrimage to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to see the tree decorated with 18th-century Neapolitan ornaments: scenes of village life at the base and angels above. And whenever I’m in Naples, I make a trip to Via San Gregorio Armeno, where shop after shop has Christmas ornaments on offer, often being made right before your eyes.

A Neapolitan angel with Pulcinella, a character in Neapolitan puppetry.

My own tree every year is a nod to the tree at the Met, with Neapolitan angels at the top, in Heaven.So imagine my surprise, when we were in Italy in early November, to see the Christmas shopping season in full swing, including ads for Black Friday, which is even weirder there because they don’t have Thanksgiving to hitch it to.  One might expect such a thing in Rome, where shopkeepers have discovered that Italian ornaments make nice souvenirs and gifts for tourists (guilty as charged), but in the weekly market in Altamura, with not a tourist in sight, there were numerous stands devoted to Christmas goods, typically with a snowy, wintery aspect. In contrast to the Met tree, where the village scenes look suspiciously like 18th-century Naples instead of ancient-day Bethlehem, these figures are dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones they’ll never know.

Look what my childhood friend Maureen Tripp sent me this year!

2 thoughts on “102. Natale

    1. Actually, we’re headed to Australia (!) tomorrow. We’re staying near the old Italian-AUSTRALIAN neighborhood in Melbourne, so I expect to find interesting things to write about.

      Happy New Year to you and yours.


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