America for (Italian) Dummies #12

Once a student of mine wrote a composition about Natale vs Christmas, exploring the main cultural differences.

The basic concept, the spirit of the feast, the historical and cultural origin are the same, but in fact there are differences in the way we celebrate it.

Let’s start with Christmas tree. Don’t be offended if one of your Italian friends asks you if your Christmas tree is an actual tree,

many people in Italy use an “ecological” (=plastic) albero di Natale.

(If you want to learn more about Italian houses for Christmas you might want to see here:

Gifts: normally under the tree, and someone open them on Christmas Eve, someone else on Christmas Day.

Again, don’t take it bad if your Italian friends ask about the socks hanged on the fireplace: in Italy socks are not for Santa but for the Befana (the Epiphany, January 6th).

In Italy Santa, Babbo Natale, is not the only one to bring presents; in Northern Italy, for example, there is Santa Lucia. And someone prepare milk and cookies, or tangerines, for her, outside the door.

Babbo Natale normally is not as available as Santa, he doesn’t show up too much… especially in malls and stores as he does in the States…

…and according to Italian kids he lives somewhere in Scandinavia.

Pop corn chains, gingerbread, Cristmas cookies

are not used in Italy; Candy Canes are mostly unknown. I bet nobody will guess they taste like peppermint, and if you ask your an Italian to to guess their flavour s/he will probably say “Strawberry”. In Italy mint is normally associated with green.

If you have Italian guests for Christmas prepare yourself to hear the story of traditional Italian Christmas sweets, Panettone, Pandoro, Torrone, Panforte… (see: )

…in order to stop them, offer them tons of cookies…

…and lots of eggnog, they will forget Italian Christmas treats for a while!


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