“I have an Idea, but I don’t want to go outside. And my idea is outside.”
/ Anikó /
We, northern people, tend to envy southerners, but the truth is – we are the ones who can walk around bare feet, wearing just a T-shirt at home for 3-4 months, while it’s snowing outside. I told this to Licia, expressing my incomprehension, but she shared an opinion of her own, that I do not understand – It should be winter inside and out, not the other way around, that is the natural way. Strange, really strange. But let’s not wast more time on the weather report.
“This will be a blogging day,” I said after waking up this morning at 11 a.m. and going back to bed at 11.30 (still a.m.). So what else could I write about than the most recent experience – Christmas.
One of the most crucial Christmas “ingredients” at my home has always been the tree. And it’s not just about the tree itself, but the combination of wooden smell, some broken conifer needles, candles, tangerines and (the original) grandma’s patties. It is the shadow of the branches – illuminated by a soft light, coming from the Christmas lights.
But here, in Acireale, I did not find a single place where people would sell nicely packed ..or unpacked Christmas trees. Not that I really, really tried…but I guess for me being used to having these spontaneous Christmas tree markets on every street corner and square, makes it hard to understand why…
On the other hand the Italians do have il presepe (the nativity scene/ Bethlehem) everywhere, and, well, the tree might not be the most religious of Christmas symbols, so it might even make sense. But since the Baltic states are considered to be the birthplace of Christmas trees, my love for them could be justified.
In the mean time for a country that’s supposedly religious-driven, they have a quite bizarre tradition for the night of 24th. But I will get back to that.
For the first time in 14 years I woke up on 24th of December around 10 a.m., slowly got ready and went out with Anikó for a Christmas morning cappuccino at Costarelli terrace. The sun was heating up every part of my body – covered in dark clothing, Michael Buble wished “Merry Christmas” through the speakers and the Chrstmas market was filling up with people right in front of our eyes. It’s the pre-festive fever, you see – everyone’s hysterically grasping for presents at the very last moment. It is a common phenomenon that can be observed all around the globe.
We had done our shopping for the Pumpkin soup the day before, but through slow conversations and sun-soaked looks we came to the decision that action must be taken. Yes, we had agreed on the second dish and had 40 minutes left before siesta (that would last for 1 and a half days) to shop for sushi ingredients.
And then we met Furioso (a horse), Biscotto (a dog), Pece (a goat) and others at the horse farm that we so happened to go to on an average Christmas afternoon – a place where Anikó will teach English and fulfill one of her dreams to ride horses… in Sicily… with the Sea on your right and Etna on your left. And we even got so lucky to ride these horses after the class finished. I would definitely rank this as one of the random moments of awesomeness… where a person just somehow stumbles into.
So now we have reached the weird part of Christmas traditions in Italy.
Imagine a huge, 4×4 meters wide, 3 meters high bonfire that is made at the beginning of the Christmas week – right in the middle of a street in every town – in front of one of the biggest churches …and lit on the Christmas eve. So after celebrating with their families, st midnight the Italians arrive to the bonfire and meet up with friends to wish each other a Merry Christmas – like average people do in New Year. So strange.
Also bonfires remind me of the Midsummer festival in Latvia. A tradition that comes from the age of paganism and has rooted so deeply into our culture that half of the population doesn’t even know why a bonfire is lit on the 23rd of June, but they do it anyway.
Here though it is originated from a noble gesture towards the poor – so that the less fortunate would have a place to go and get warm at least during Christmas time.
The next morning I was woken up by a call from George Clooney – also know as David Creedon – the Irish photographer -, who still managed to call me through whats app without having my Italian number. I did think about it a couple of days before, but wasn’t expecting to get a call though. David has this amazing tradition to call all of his phone contacts on the 25th of December to wish a Merry Christmas and exchange a few words, and he has been doing it for the past 3 years. When I shared this story with Anikó, she thought it was an excellent idea and definitely worth a try…so we tried. She called a lot of people, while I stopped after the first two calls that lasted for an hour each – small talk has never been a strength of mine.
And it took just one comment from grandma saying “oh, your cheeks finally look rounder than your brothers'” for me to rethink my life (read: day) and make a drastic decision towards going hiking on 25th of December. So we went down to the sea and to the rocks.
In May 2016, when me and Nanna visited Rome, we met a Sicilian guy named Enrico, who was bold enough to invite me to celebrate Christmas in Modica – under the conditions that I get accepted for the Italy EVS project and it gets approved at the National Agency, and he’s actually in Modica at that time, and I have no other plans, and we actually remember this 8 months later. So a long shot, I’d say.
But somehow it came to this: both me and Anikó (later on Marina, Licia and Pierpaolo as well) agreed to go to Modica on the 26th. And I got the chance to hang out with these two bearded people who brought me to high churches, an art gallery, the highest viewpoint in Modica and (of course) il mare, convinced me that Italians Do have real Christmas trees at home and I shouldn’t be drawing conclusions so fast. I met “the family” of Enrico, saw a lot of puppies and had a very, very unusual 2nd day of Christmas.
So to sum it all up I did miss home, the routine, Christmas smell, songs and mulled wine, family and friends, and I had a small homesick-depression-like feeling the week before Christmas… But this was a good alternative – a time spent with nice, joyful people, random activities and a healthy meal plan (very non-Christmasy). And I know that soon the New Year celebration will arrive and people will ask me – how was it? But let me just say that NY has never been between my favorite festivities, but I wish all the best to those of you who see it as “the starting point” – be happy and content with the life God has given to you, and make the best out of it.