This was predestined to be a low-key Christmas. In fact, the most low-key Christmas either of us had ever experienced. When I was young, we would gather as a family and open mountains of presents before our grandparents came and joined in the fun. Jen’s experience of Christmas as a little girl was no different. Since we started dating over ten years ago, our two families have merged and we have always made the holidays the grand event it should be. Since it’s just the three of us here in Italy, we knew this year would be small in comparison. But at the same time, we were eager to set our own family traditions now that Julia is old enough to understand what’s going on.
Our low-key Christmas
We developed a plan based on our vision of how we wanted the day to unfold (OK, OK. Jen’s vision… Jen’s plan. I just helped when possible). Fortunately, our low-key Christmas did not disappoint. First we had to set up the tree, which we did well before the big day. We capped that evening off with popcorn (a real treat for Julia) and a movie (The Polar Express). Continue reading Buon Natale (Merry Christmas)→
If you are notoriously known for having eyes that are bigger than your stomach, then Italy is the ideal place for you during the holidays. You will eat some of the most delectable food known to man… but you will certainly eat far too much of it! If you possess a willpower stronger than mine and think to yourself, “nonsense Greg, I always stop eating when I am full” then you are mistaken.
A table like this means it’s impossible to pace yourself
First, it is impossible to “budget” your intake. You will definitely want to sample all the delicious and unique treats on the table. The courses come in waves bigger than Australia’s Gold Coast and there is no telling when they will stop crashing on the table. So even if you simply try a little of everything, you’re still going to eat three times more than a normal meal. But that’s hardly the main reason. If you are a visitor in someone’s home, the hostess is absolutely going to give you the largest portions. And before you’re even done, you should expect seconds. This will continue over and over until a cold sweat starts to break above your brow. The trifecta of being force fed occurs if:
A) you are a man (and therefore expected to eat copious amounts of food)
B) you are a visitor from another country (Italians are very hospitable and eager to show off their regional specialties)
C) you are in a house where a nonna (grandma) is present (as if the hostess herself wasn’t enough, a nonna is guaranteed to guilt you into taking another several portions of food) Continue reading Christmas in Italy… Your Taste Buds Will Thank You, Your Stomach Will Not→
Most people visit Europe in the spring or summer. Of course, these are great times of year to see such a magical and historical place. But may I suggest to you a unique alternative?
Come in December, when the weather is at it’s coldest and the people are their warmest. When the cobblestone streets are strung with lights and the ancient buildings are trimmed with garland. Imagine your most magical place for the holidays – a winter wonderland, if you will. You will be sure to find something that fits your image here in Europe. There are amazing markets and festivals across the continent. Some countries boast cities that are particularly renowned for their holiday cheer. Finland, Germany and Austria are at the top of the list. Denmark and Switzerland are there as well. And of course, our personal favorite place to be for Christmas is right here in Italy. Before you plan your next Christmas vacation, add Europe into the running.
“Boy, Clark – I think we should go to Europe next year”
You may have recently read that our Christmas spirit was put into gear when we attended a Milanese festival early in December. We continued our drive toward Santa’s big day by slipping into second gear and crossing the border into neighboring Switzerland. Our Christmas spirit grew as we set out to enjoy one of the things we love most about Europe in December – the Christmas markets.
Christmas trees like this are in cities all over Europe – this is in the main piazza of Lugano, Switzerland
It just so happens that one of our favorite things about living in Italy is access to wonderful markets year round. In the spring and summer, we can stroll the markets to buy fresh vegetables and aged cheese. In the fall, we can purchase delicious homemade jams and carefully crafted grappa. However, the winter markets are undoubtedly our favorite. The backdrop is perfect – streets framed with Christmas lights. Good cheer around every turn. Wonderful food and beautiful artisanal goods at each stand. Beyond that, it is perfectly acceptable to walk around drinking the specialty drink of the season, vin brulé. This cooked wine is seasoned with sugar and spices – designed to warm your hands and belly as well as comfort your soul. No market visit on a cold December day would be complete without a cup (or two). Continue reading The Christmas Markets of Switzerland→
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”… and that means so many things! It means snow flakes and Christmas lights. It means cold weather and hot chocolate. It means Santa Claus and stockings stuffed with goodies. When you live in Europe, it also means tremendous Christmas markets and delicious vin brulè (cooked wine, usually sold on the streets). Over the past couple weeks, we have been taking advantage of it all! Because Christmas is only four days away – I will spend the next four days posting about our Christmas fun. In order to do that, I have to bend my “unbreakable rule” and publish blog posts out of order. I’ll fast-forward to Christmas and then flash back to some exciting posts that I have in the pipeline.
Oh bej! Oh bej! No, you don’t have to say “gesundheit”! I didn’t sneeze. That is the name of a festival held each year in Milan, spanning from December 7th through the following Sunday. How did it get that wonderful name, you ask? “Oh bej! Oh bej!” means, “oh so nice! Oh so nice!” in the Milanese dialect. It is by far, the most important Christmas festival held in Milan. December 7th is the day of the Patron Saint of Milano, Santo Ambrogio. The festival is said to date back all the way to 1510.
OK, we realize it’s nearly February and people are more inclined to think about Valentine’s Day than Christmas… but it’s still cold and snowy and hey, who couldn’t use a little holiday cheer any time of year?! So, if you’ll forgive us for posting about Christmas at the end of January, than you’ll certainly excuse the fact that these pictures were taken last year!
Christmas is such a special time in Italy. We didn’t want to miss a posting about this wonderful event and some of the local traditions. When we arrived on January 4th, all the lights and decorations were still present but we didn’t have an opportunity to photograph anything. Therefore, we had to use some from last year’s library.
Lake Como’s Duomo – lit up at night
Starting in early December, you’ll find lights and decorations sprinkled throughout each piazza and cobblestone street you encounter. In front of every church you’ll see a presepio (nativity scene) that is always presented wonderfully and illuminated each night. If you venture into the suburbs (or look up toward the windows in most cities), you’ll see hundreds of little Santas trying to climb their way into someone’s home. And you’re sure to hear “Buon Natale” (Merry Christmas) at every turn. Continue reading Christmas in Italy→