The holiday season has ended – for the most part. Tomorrow is the Feast of the Epiphany, which is a public holiday here in Italy. This year, not only do we have an additional week of Christmas break but we have a new tradition to add to our growing list of international customs – a visit from La Befana.
La Befana is the Italian Christmas Witch who visits Italian children on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany. Befana leaves a stocking full of treats for good children and coal for those whose behavior could use improvement.
I first read the story of Befana in the lovely children’s book by Tomie diPaola The Legend of Old Befana. (Available at amazon) According to legend, Befana was an old woman who had time for nothing but sweeping her house. One day the wise men appeared on their way to visit baby Jesus. They invited Befana to join them, but she declined. Later, she regretted her decision and set off to find the wise men and the baby. She never found them. She continues to search to this day, leaving treats for good children as she flies over Italy on her broom.
What I didn’t know until recently was that like Santa Claus, Old Befana receives a treat. Unlike Santa’s treat of milk and cookies, Befana has a preference for a glass of red wine and a plate of sausage and broccoli. Now that’s my kind of legend! (There was a recent article in Slate about Befana here)
With the end of the holiday season, I thought I would try to get back on track sharing my experiences here. It’s been quite a while since my last post, so I was at a bit of a loss as to where to begin. Luckily, the answer came to me from another website I follow. Small Planet Studio, a company devoted to assisting with the experience of global re-entry, recently launched a year-long journaling exercise. The purpose of the exercise is to form a clearer vision of your life at home and abroad through reflection. I thought it would be fun to share some of the entries here.
The force behind the company is Cate Brubaker, who describes Small Planet Studio’s mission here:
Small Planet Studio is a personal and professional development company that provides services for global adventurers who have been changed by living and traveling abroad — and don’t want to readjust to the status quo of the home they left behind.
Our goal is to help global adventurers create global lives so they can flourish at home and abroad. The key to that is understanding how to find your global life ingredients and use them to create a meaningful, satisfying, and sustainable global life that fits you as perfectly as your favorite travel shoes.
It’s a website with a lot of good information, you can visit it for yourself here. Go ahead and sign up for the Global You 365 Challenge while you’re there!
The first entry for January was to describe your favorite memories from December. Since we had a pretty busy December, I thought this would be a great place to begin.
Sankt Niklaus, a Christmas tree, and the stomach flu
Our holiday season was off to a less than auspicious beginning. Just before Thanksgiving, my 8 year-old was down with an unidentified infection, through which we learned (on Thanksgiving Day) that he is allergic to penicillin. My 6 year-old was next, out with the stomach flu, and I followed soon after. For the first two weeks of Advent, at least one of us was sick.
Despite our health, the first of our holiday visitors stopped by on the evening of December 5. It would seem that even in Italy, Sankt Niklaus visits the good little children, leaving a small treat in their shoes to discover in the morning.
While the children and I were in varying degrees of recovery from our illnesses, my husband went out and found us an enormous live Christmas tree. He set it up in the living room, and as soon as we were able, we set out to decorate it. We managed to get about half of the ornaments on the tree before it fell over. Of course the majority of the ornaments we put on first were fragile and shattered. Including the angel at the top of the tree.
Eventually we decorated the tree and salvaged what ornaments we could. The house looked and smelled like the holidays. We watched the opening ceremonies of the Jubilee at the Vatican from our living room, still recovering from our illnesses.
Searching Rome for Christmas Markets
By the third week in Advent, we were feeling well enough to venture out to Piazza Navona for the famous holiday market there. Unfortunately, there was no market in Piazza Navona this year. I’ve heard a lot of different explanations, but whatever the reason, the market was a bust.
Instead, we spent a lovely afternoon at the mostra di Leonardo Da Vinci – il genio e le macchine, the exhibition of the machines of Leonardo Da Vinci, located in Piazza della Cancelleria, right near Campo di Fiori. Many of Da Vinci’s inventions were recreated to scale, while additional inventions were projected on small screens. This was a fantastic exhibit for children, with a lot of hands on participation. You can find hours and ticket prices on their website.
On our way home, we went through Piazza del Popolo where we decided to stop in and visit the temporary exhibit there, 100 presepi (nativities) from around the world located in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo. Another worthwhile exhibit, which is on display through January 10, according to the website.
Finally a Christmas Market
On the third week of Advent, we took a train from Termini station to Verona to visit the Christmas markets there. Verona is definitely worth a visit. It has long been on my travel dream list and I was excited to make it a reality.
We stayed at the charming Opera Relais de Charme. Our lack of planning in advance worked to our benefit, as this was the only room we could find in the city center. It was a lovely hotel, with a fantastic, friendly staff, and they brought breakfast to your room in the morning!
We spent our time in Verona exploring the traditional Nuremburg style Kristkindlmarkt, Babbo Natale’s village, and other assorted markets throughout the city. It was a great opportunity to fill up on German Christmas treats like lebkuchen, magenbrot, wursts, and potato pancakes. It was also a fabulous opportunity to sample Italian treats, like vin brule, cheese, tasty chocolates and sinfully delicious cookies. As fun as that was, it wasn’t all we did. We visited and toured Juliet’s house, getting plenty of pictures with the balcony. We visited the magnificent arena, where the kids were able to romp and climb the stairs to their heart’s content. The arena is in fantastic condition, and has provided the backdrop for several movies over the years. After we visited the arena, we headed to the exhibition area for another presepi show.
As an aside, I am not sure if every town in Italy has a presepi exhibition over the holidays, but every town that I have visited has had one. Italian nativities are fantastic. They are complex, and include an array of extras telling stories beyond just that of the birth of Jesus. Some of the scenes we observed were so intricate it was difficult to locate the Holy Family. Both of the shows we visited were international, with countries across the globe represented. The styles were varied, but the best were definitely from Italy. It’s never just the Holy Family. It’s the Holy Family, the wise men, the shepherds, the angels, the baker, some revelers, the butcher, and so much more. The most unusual presepi was in Rome. An entire scene was created from Gone With the Wind, with Rhett, Scarlett, and the Holy Family in the gazebo.
Christmas to New Year’s Eve
Following a quiet Christmas at home, we went to The Art of the Brick – an exhibition at the Spazio Eventi Tirso featuring the work of American Lego Artist Nathan Sawaya. Although the exhibition was a bit pricey, for the four of us tickets were 44 Euros, we thought it was worth the price of admission. Sawaya’s work included Lego recreations of famous paintings, statues, and buildings as well as several fantastic original works. We ended our tour in the Lego creation area, where children and adults alike crowded tables filled with Legos, working on their own masterpieces.
I would recommend going early, especially on a day when local children are out of school. The museum opened at 10, by 10:30 there was a line, which, as we left was out the door and winding down the street.
Our final adventure of 2015 was a train trip to Puglia for New Year’s Eve. We spent the last night of 2015 in the company of our Italian relatives, watching an Italian variety show while eating an abundance of delicious food. Just before midnight, plates of lentils and turkey were brought out to ensure good financial fortune in the year to come.
Raising our glasses at midnight, toasting in the New Year on the shores of the Adriatic, it was hard not to marvel at the beauty of our wonderful adventure abroad.
I hope each of you had a blessed holiday season and I wish you all a peaceful, prosperous, and adventure filled 2016!