Buon Natale (Merry Christmas)

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).

Julia strikes a fashionable pose after I set the tree in place
She helps her mother trim the tree
Then it’s time for a break and a Christmas movie

On Christmas morning, we struggled to roll out of bed – still full from an epic Christmas Eve dinner the night before.  We could barely keep out in front of Julia with the camera flashing and the video rolling.  She was beyond eager to see what Santa brought her and went for his presents first.

Julia opens a present from Babbo Natale (Santa Claus)
“It’s a SAXOPHONE?!”
“Is this how it works?”
“Oh, no – like this!”
Jen takes a picture with Julia, but I think she’s more interesting her Peppa Pig chocolate bar
“Wow, a guitar too?!”
“Are you for real?  Is this for ME?!” 
“I can be my own band – bring my my microphone, please!”

After opening Santa’s musical gifts, she next moved onto the gifts from her nonni (Jen’s parents) and her Grandma and Pop-Pop (my parents).  Franco and Claudia (Jen’s aunt and uncle that live above us) came down for part of the gift opening.  We took a brief pause for breakfast – it was already 9:00am and the Italians from upstairs were freaking out that they were eating off-schedule. Jen fixed a delicious french toast casserole, made even better with sciroppo d’acero (maple syrup – which is not easy to find in Italy).  She served it with fresh fruit and cappuccino.  Franco and Claudia retired upstairs after breakfast and we helped Julia open her remaining presents.  We spent a pleasant afternoon playing with Julia and her new booty.  Later that evening, we hosted Franco and Claudia for dinner.  We put on a simple spread – real Italian comfort food.  Antipasti followed by brodo con tortellini and simple salads.

Julia works on removing her brand new Furby from Nonna
Julia plays with her new cash register from her accountant, Pop-Pop
Jen’s breakfast
Julia and I jam out after breakfast

The day after Christmas is the day of Santo Stefano – another good reason for families to gather and feast once again.  This time, Franco and Claudia wanted to host the whole family.  This included our family, as well as the families of Franco’s sons – Massimo and Gianni.  We all gathered at the standard lunch time and feasted on antipasti (many, many appetizers), primi (a choice of pasta bolognese or zuppa di pesce – my choice was both), secondi (an arrosto di vitello and a turkey that Jen prepared at the request of Gianni).  Of course there were plenty of contorni (side dishes) and wonderful wine.  When the traditional panettone was served, Gianni thought it would be fun to whip up some crema al mascarpone (mascarpone cream), which we also put in our espresso.

The table is set for the family
Jen brought up some dates stuffed with mascarpone & formaggio di capra, wrapped in prosciutto
One of our favorite types of antipasto – spicy peppers stuff with tuna.  Try before you judge, it’s delicious
Julia dressed up in some of her fancy new princess treasures
Gianni’s wife, Giussi helps him whip up some crema al mascarpone
It made for a delicious topper on our espresso

You may think the fun is over by now… but you see – Italians know how to keep a good thing going (i.e. our six-hour meal on Christmas Eve).  It should come as no surprise that extending their holidays are no different.  On January 6th, La Festa dell’Epifania (The Epiphany) marks the final celebration of the season.  Just as Santa Claus often overshadows the birth of Christ, so too does the candy-weilding Befana monopolize the day God revealed his son as a human being.  Oh well, presents and candy are certainly more fun than religion and history – especially for a child.  Just as Santa flies in his sleigh to deliver presents to the world’s boys and girls, the Befana flies on her broom to leave candy in the socks of children.  Although she hasn’t quite racked up the amount of frequent flyer miles as the big guy – she always stops at the border of Italy.  Just like her bearded counterpart, she even leaves coal for the bad kids.  Although they don’t really come out empty handed – it’s actually carbone dolce (candy shaped coal… which turns out to be pure sugar… as well as my coffee sweetener this past week).

The Befana visits Julia
“Just look at this spread!”

Of course, we missed our friends and family this year – but as far as low-key Christmases go, we sure had a lot of fun (and great food)!