December 6, 2011

Christmas in Italy versus America

By Valerio Rasi–

Look around and you will see Christmas decorations already set up in many shops and offices. It is fairly normal for every American to start to decorate for the winter holidays right after Thanksgiving. I was surprised to find myself tasting Christmas one month in advance . I grew up in Italy for 17 years, and I had never purchased presents for family and friends until I could at least see the month of December marked on my calendar. For us Italians, the starting preparation date is actually Dec. 8. It is a national holiday known by the name of “Immaculate Conception” and most of the families use this day to decorate houses or buy presents for children. This has nothing to do with the Italians’ “enjoy life” tradition or the art of postponing everything. The financial issues that my country is currently dealing with have nothing to do with this custom; it is just a tradition enjoyed without being planned in advance.

Another difference is the magnitude of decorations visible in cities. I just came back from New York City, where I celebrated Thanksgiving. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw how beautiful the buildings on 5th Avenue were, like Saks, Dior or Tiffany. In Italy, thanks to the economy and the environmentalists, many cities are competing on making the most decorations with the lowest impact to the environment. This project is called “M’illumino di men” (which literally translates to “I illuminate myself with less”), which references a famous Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti, who in a poem wrote, “M’illumino d’Immenso” (literally “I illuminate myself/ with immensity”).

In addition, a huge difference is that any worker in Italy is rewarded of a “thirteen monthly” (tredicesima). In December, people get paid double, as if they were working thirteen months. It allows many families to be able to spend some money on gifts and lets the economy flow. This concept is not so common in the United States, where only large companies offer a “Christmas bonus” to their workers.

Christmas, for every Italian, is like Thanksgiving in the United States. It is a big family reunion that no longer reflects the symbolic religious tradition of the nativity, although many services still run on Christmas Eve. It is a must for everyone to be back with their family and eat fish for dinner. There is a famous sentence: “Natale con i tuoi, Capodanno con chi vuoi” (Christmas with yours [relatives], New Year’s Eve with whoever you want). It shows how this became a commitment to be together with family. For this reason, no matter where I am, I must always come back for Christmas, like I always do, and I will be spending traditional holiday during winter break in my wonderful country of Italy. “Buon Natale e buone feste a tutti” (Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everybody).

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