Today is Tuesday, December 12 – only 12 more shopping days until Christmas morning. Twelve days until our stockings are stuffed, our turkeys are stuffed, and, well, we are stuffed – from Maw Maw’s legendary cornbread dressing to say the least. This is my first Christmas season in Italy – and I am still cheating. I leave tomorrow to go to the US for a month to celebrate Christmas and ring in the new year TX style! I am very excited.
But, it doesn’t feel like Christmas. At least not to me.
The shops here are cute, with their little wire and bulb Christmas lights, and crooked little “Auguri” signs hanging from the door. The church decorated their presepe on Friday and we celebrated the Immacolata. The weather even finally got cold enough for my heavy jacket, and Pep and I watched The Grinch last night…so what is my problem?
I think I know what it is…
It is the shopping! It is no fun for me here. I realize Italy is the fashion capital of the world – and I am not protesting the lack of interesting things to buy. But, I just can’t get into it. Maybe it is because the sales people follow you around like you are a common criminal. You can’t just browse, look at something, put it back, get something else – like you would in America. If you make the mistake of saying, “I am looking for a scarf,” they ask you what color, and pull every scarf in that color (or color combination) off of the shelf for you to look at and choose. They lay them all out on the table for you…it might sound nice, but, trust me, it isn’t. It is annoying.
Maybe I can’t get into the Christmas spirit because of the utter lack of Christmas SALES! Sales (sconti) in Italy are virtually nil, and are mandated by the government (or something silly like that), so – Italians think 10% off is a big savings. Last summer I got pushed out of the way for a necklace that was 30% off. I was like, 30%, we wouldn’t even show up in American for a lousy 30%! I did laugh out loud at a local store last week when I was browsing (I had to “sneak” and do this) the toys. There was a sign that read “SCONTI SHOCK”. So, basically – SALE SHOCK. There was a red line through the original price of 22.50 and the new price was written in a marker below…21.50. I am confused. What is the shock? The 1 Euro off, or the waste of pen and paper to write that stinky note??
And to top it all off, until last night I was very puzzled about something going on in the shops. I mean, it is bad enough they have sales for 1 Euro off, but they still have Halloween decorations out. Everywhere I go, I see this little old witch, just waiting to be bought. She is happily (or not so happily, depending on her grin) perched up between Santa and Rudolph! And you know what? She is still full price! I was thinking, “What is wrong with Italy? Maybe someone should tell them Halloween is over!” Well, last night I heard about the endearing little Christmas tradition in Italy called La Befana.
La Befana is one of Italy’s oldest and most celebrated legends. Each year on January 6 Italian children awaken to see if La Befana visited to their house. This day marks the day the three Wise Men arrived at Jesus’ manger. Apparently, over the years this has been a more celebrated holiday for the children of Italy than even Christmas.
According to the legend, the three Wise Men were searching for the Christ child when they decided to stop and ask for directions. (Now – I have a problem with this part of the story for 2 reasons – 1) why didn’t they keep following the star, and 2) men NEVER stop and ask for directions, especially if there were three of them…but, anyway, along with the story!)
Upon knocking on the door of a small house, an old woman holding a broom opened the door slightly to see who was there. Standing at her doorstep were three colorfully dressed men who were in need of directions to find the Christ child. The old woman didn’t know who they were looking for, and could not provide them with directions. Prior to the three men leaving they asked the old woman to join them on their journey. (Sure, three colorfully dressed men are going to ask an old raggedly witch on a broom to join them??)
The old woman declined saying she had too much housework to do. However, after they left she felt as though she had made a mistake and tried to catch up with the men. After hours of searching she could not find them. Thinking of the missed opportunity, the old woman stopped every child to give them a small treat in hopes that one was the Christ child. Each year on the eve of the Epiphany she sets out looking for the baby Jesus. She stops at each child’s house to leave those who were good treats and those who were bad a lump of coal.