Italians gear themselves up for Christmas unlike any group of people I’ve seen. Banners and wreaths overflow from the piazzas on every corner, and everything is lit up at night. The city sparkles. I even saw one store with a giant bow on it:
Whenever anyone mentions the aging singer Antonello Venditti, whose hit singles include the songs “Stella” and “Julius Caesar,” I am instantly flung back to Italy at Christmas-time. For some odd reason, instead of being fond of head-banging rap or even mindless pop, Sabrina and Simone (host sister and cousin, respectively) were positively addicted to the geriatric crooner. Every waking moment, Venditti was on the radio or on the lips of my host family.
A sample of his music:
For Christmas eve dinner, it is tradition in Italy to eat seafood. Looking at my past, I have consistently steered clear of seafood, but I ate this four course meal without question. It wouldn’t have crossed my mind to mention that I didn’t like seafood, or ask for plain pasta instead. It was a moment of growth.
It was all rather low-hype, because the real party was on Christmas day. All of Donatella’s extended family went to her brother’s new house in the country, and we must have numbered at least thirty hungry people.
Our hunger, of course, delighted the grandmothers, who were all anxious to prove they were the best cook. Understandably, all the food was served on plastic plates, or there would have been literally hundreds of dishes, and many Italians don’t have dishwashers (not sure if this house did, but ours didn’t).
There are really no words to describe how much food was in that house, or how much all of us ate. It was like food was crawling out of cracks in the ground — it was everywhere. Following a hearty million courses, which included appetizers, pasta, lasagna, meats, more meats, the stray vegetable, and wines, everyone settled down for a massive game of bingo. It’s apparently normal in Italy to play tons of bingo or card games (the most famous of which is similar to blackjack, but is played with cards from Napoli), and swindle one’s relatives out of their money after a hearty Christmas dinner.
It’s all very fun and goes on for a very long time, and I believe I came out seven euro on top, which I gave to Sabrina because she spotted me so many times to keep me in the games. Everyone was very kind when reading out the bingo letters and numbers to make sure I could understand, but I could tell the grandmothers were a little antsy to keep playing : )
During and after the games, the stray aunts who didn’t want to play more bingo would come around and give everyone another piece of lasagna, pizza, pasta…whatever your preference. You basically just never stop eating, and since it’s so delicious, the only inconvenience is the buckle on your pants.
Author’s note: I wrote the post above during the academic year of 2007-2008 when, not knowing one word of Italian, I decided to spend the year in Italy living with a host family. I went through School Year Abroad (SYA), a program I cannot recommend highly enough.