For about a week we have watched as various workmen have been precariously perched upon ladders as they string lights overhead, draped across the streets and attached to the stone buildings on either side. Some are script-written greetings such as “Auguri” and “Buone Feste”. Others are simple dangling strands, still others have bulbs laid out to design gift packages and stars. Shop windows seemed to magically change overnight to boast twinkling lights, festoons of ribbons, and bright, glittery trees. The city appeared to be making preparations for the Christmas season, all’Italiana.
Yesterday we awoke to the bells of Duomo pealing like mad, seemingly louder and longer than normal so Bryan was dispatched to investigate what was amuck. He found curiously empty streets and piazzas, odd for a Friday morning, and discovered that it was a holiday of which we had previously not been aware, which was unfortunate because all the stores were closed and had I known about it being a holiday I could have prepared by shopping for the apparently grocery-less day. It was an oddly sedate morning for our normally lively town, as everyone was (presumably) in church for a mass to celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Who knew?
We went out to lunch – the restaurants being mercifully open since I had few provisions in the house - and strolled the practically-empty streets under a clear, blue sky enjoying an unseasonably warm day. After riposo we ventured out again to be met by the city ablaze with lights – the shop windows, the piazzas, the street decorations all lustrous with luminosity. According to our local source for such information, Gianluca our neighborhood barista, this particular feast day is the official kick-off for the holiday season. From now until Epiphany all the stores will be open later and on days they would normally close; people will be gathering more and making merry; the lights will be beaming forth brightly. He also informed us that the local shopkeepers pay for the festive illuminations and this invariably leads to annual arguments over who didn’t pay enough last year, who should pay more because their shop has more street frontage and who is a just scrooge-y or stingy.
Evergreen boughs are now bedecking doors and balconies. There is an artisan mercato set up, and a skating rink is being prepared in Piazza Arringo right smack in front of the Duomo. In short, our lovely medieval city is beautifully festive and it has really put us into the holiday mood, as well. We’ve put some packages into the mail for family and may go into the mountains to cut some evergreen boughs for ourselves tomorrow. We even received our first couple of Christmas cards from home. I started a bit of baking (what I can accomplish in my teensy kitchen). I’ve even made my list for Santa, asking him for my permesso di soggiorno. As we stroll beneath the canopy of twinkle lights we feel warm inside. We’re ready for Christmas in Italia!
copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider
(Fellow blogger Shelley in Rome has also written about the lights in her neighborhood of Trastevere.)