Buon Natale everyone! Although, by now the big event is over. Actually Christmas day in this part of the world does not seem to be as big a deal as it is in Australia. “The main event” is on the 6th January, called “The Epiphany”. Epiphany is about a witch “La Befana” who flies on her broomstick in the night and fills stockings with toys and lollies for good kids and lumps of coal for the bad ones. I’ll write more about it on the actual date, but I mention it now as it may explain why Christmas Day is a little more low key around these parts.
We spent the week leading up to Christmas enjoying the local festivities including the school Christmas concert. (Warning: Proud Parent bragging coming up!). The concert is held annually in the local teatro, which is a proper (but small) theatre suitable for musical events and plays. The 1st graders opened the concert with some lovely Italian songs that they had learned. We were very proud of little Denver who joined in the singing, despite not really knowing the meaning of the words! His girlfriend, Vanessa, was a great help to him I think, as he would not have persevered if there was nobody to impress! (In fact, Vanessa is responsible for his new-found enthusiasm for school and we’re grateful this time for his inherited appreciation of the opposite sex. He comes from a long line of charming men!)
Next up, Balin’s class went on stage. We were suprised and delighted when Balin and his little girlfriend took centre stage and performed a duet: The Music Man. The whole class backed them up on the chorus. Both of them had microphones and you could hear Balin’s lovely voice loud and clear. We have video of the entire performance of course. After the English song, they performed several Italian numbers. The finale had all the students on stage singing an Italian christmas song. We were both very proud parents! In the beginning of this adventure, we worried about how they would fit in here. Indeed, we had some issues (and probably will continue to) with Denver, but I think we are over the worst of it. I’m so happy with how much they are learning: not only the language but learning about the world and becoming more resilient and adaptable to change. It was a nice Christmas present.
For Christmas gifts this year, I baked cookies. I made the traditional Honey Biscuits of my family and also some peanut butter choc chip cookies in homage to the American tradition. I packaged them up and we gave some to our neighbours as well as Monika our cleaner, Giovani the bread man, Lucia, Alice, Andreina and our relatives in Lucca. The traditional gift seems to be a Panetone and Champagne, as we received this back from our friends. Christmas cards are not the done thing (which I’m glad of, it always seems like a waste of paper) and visiting your friends is a more personal way of giving your greetings. We had coffee with Franco and Maria as well as Gabriella and her daughter (who was visiting for Christmas).
Christmas morning went very much the same way it always does in our house. Kids get up early, drag us out of bed and then pounce on the presents under the tree. After the presents were opened and the excitement died down a little, we got in touch with our families on Skype. In Australia, it was heading towards the Christmas night time meal, so most people had full bellies from lunch and some were a bit tipsy (yeah, you know who you are! 🙂 ) It was lovely to be able to see and talk to our families from so far away. This time of year has made me a little homesick and it would have been nice to instantly teleport back home just for a moment and hug a few people.
At around 11am, we left for Christina and Enrico’s house in Lucca. They had very generously invited us to share a traditional Christmas lunch and spend the afternoon with them and their family. The lovely Mariella was there, her son Amadeo and his wife Christina, their daughter Sylvia and son Gianlucca. Also, Mariella’s daughter Barbara and her husband Enrico. The boys got on well with Gianlucca (who is 6) despite the language barrier, proof that kids are kids all over the world. Balin and Denver were even given Christmas gifts (unexpectedly!) and we were made to feel very welcome and part of the big Italian family. Lunch itself was delicious and I lost count of the number of courses we had. The food just kept coming out! There was handmade tortellini, chicken with stuffing, veal which literally melted in your mouth, some sort of pork roll, a baked vegetable pie which had a root vegetable which could not be translated into any English vegetable I knew of, salad, bread…..it kept coming. For sweets there was a large type of Panetone covered in chocolate with a cake and gelati filling and nativity figurines on the top. Also there was Panforte from Siena, almond biscuits, chocolates and coffee. The conversation was loud and lively (and all in Italian of course). I kept up well and felt quite fluent by the end of the night, although my head REALLY hurt from having to concentrate so hard on what was being said and then having to think about how to reply! At one point, Chris and I looked at each other and marvelled at how strange it all was, but also how cool it was to be there. It was really a very memorable day.
The day after Christmas, we had been invited to participate in a type of historical re-enactment in a nearby medieval village called Caprio. It is called “Presepe Vivente” and involves people dressing up in the costume of a couple of thousand years ago and acting as the people back then would have done. We were the first Australians to take part and we found it a fascinating experience! We arrived at around 4pm and were taken to an old church and dressed by the organiser, Graziana Gussoni. The boys were dressed first, then I was draped in robes and a head-dress. Because Chris was taking photographs, he could not participate. We were then taken to a small stone room and told to act like we were wood workers. The event started at around 5pm and there were lines of people filing through the old village to view the human “displays”. People stopped at our little room and took photos of us. The kids were fantastic and stayed in character the whole time, pretending to saw and plane pieces of wood and hammer in nails. All over Caprio, people in costume were performing traditional duties. There were street vendors, people carrying chickens and lambs (real ones!), roman soldiers, scribes, noblemen, bakers, peasants and people just generally wandering around. The atmosphere was very authentic and there were fire buckets and candles lining the narrow stone streets and traditional music playing. You could smell woodsmoke and animals, it must have been similar to what life was like back then. Chris was in his element taking photographs, I’m only going to put a small fraction of what he took here:
We ended the evening with a procession through the village to a live nativity scene (complete with newborn baby). It was lots of fun, even if very cold! If you’re ever around these parts at Christmas time, I recommend going to an event like this.
The kids are off school until the 10th of January and we were considering taking a trip to Rome. However, there has been a bit of civil unrest around there and we thought we might delay that. Instead, we are taking short trips around Lunigiana. After locking ourselves out of the house yesterday (long story that eventually sorted itself out) we went to Pontremoli and Filattiera yesterday to take some photographs. Actually, we were hoping to see the Statue Stele museum there (which is in the castle) but they are closed on Monday. We will definitely return to do that another time, as we’re really keen to see them. Instead, we wandered around and had lunch at a small Osteria hidden in the tiny narrow streets. After lunch we wandered around some more (as we do) and found ourselves heading up to the old centre of Filatteria. The snow on the Apenines was quite stunning and we were hoping to find a good vantage point up in the village to capture the vista. We had no luck with that, but had fun discovering another ancient “borgo”. We even found a playground (few and far between around here).
Tomorrow is Balin’s 9th Birthday. He’s young enough for me to remember him as a little baby, but old enough for me to wonder where all that time went. We’re proud of our little man! He’s so intelligent, kind and thoughtful. He’s just generally a really “nice” kid and the type of kid I’d be friends with at that age. Happy Birthday sweet little Bay-Bay!!
To end, here’s a couple of pics of the sunset on Christmas day. Enjoy nature in all her spectacular colourful splendour!