As one may predict, medieval hilltop towns aren't exactly equipped with endless outlets and power sources to deck the halls Clark Griswold-style. Macerata didn't even receive electricity and running water in every home until the 1980s. And so, the elegance of celebrating the holidays in Macerata was in its simplicity. Every day that I walked through Macerata that December, I was reminded of the beauty of celebrating Christmas in Italy— a Christmas tree in the main piazza, star lights sparkled above the main streets, shops decorated their storefront windows with chocolate displays and nativity scenes, and for one weekend, the entirety of the city within the walls turned into one sprawling Christmas market filled with local antique sellers and artisans. It wasn’t Christmas overkill. It was just simple and elegant.
keeping the spirit OF THE HOLIDAYS alive
As we grow older the holidays start to lose their meaning in other ways. The magic and excitement we felt as children is replaced by worrying about everything we need to do before the holidays even arrive. The holidays become more of a check off the to-do list, rather than a time of celebration. My first time experiencing the holidays abroad in Italy, I felt like a kid again. Suddenly everything about the season— the festivals, the Christmas market, the beautiful lights— it was all new and exciting. Experiencing another culture’s traditions helped spark the joy of the holidays and to re-prioritize my own traditions in more ways than one. There are so many reasons to celebrate holidays abroad, but this has to be one of the best.
THE ART OF SLOWING DOWN
One of the biggest lessons I learned during my time in Italy was learning how to slow down and focusing on my time spent with family and friends. The most convenient convenience store in Macerata is located just outside of one of the central piazzas, Piazza della Libertà. As it happens, the store was closed for every saint or feast day, which, (being that this is Catholic Italy and it was December) denotes nearly every single day of the month. Now, I'm not sure if the family actually observed each holy day or if they simply took it as an excuse to close up shop. (They were hardly ever open so I never got the chance to meet them and find out.) But after I got over my frustration of just trying to buy a pack of stamps, I began to appreciate that this family prioritized their time spent together over everything else. Their commitment to each other and to their community was really refreshing.
THE SENSE OF COMMUNITY
La Passeggiata is a popular time in Italy where families gather together on Sunday evenings (typically) and take a walk through the neighborhood. Although La Passeggiata is a year-round custom, it seemed to be particularly special during Christmastime. Everyone from Macerata bundled up, strolled around the centro storico, chatted with neighbors, and waved hello to their favorite shopkeepers underneath the Christmas lights. Sometimes we would stop for a glass of wine or pop into our favorite cozy, artisan chocolate shop, Magna Cacao, for a cup of the best hot chocolate this world has ever seen. La Passeggiata is one of the cultural parts of living in Italy that I miss the most. It was all about gathering with friends and neighbors, and just spending time together.
After my last Passeggiata in Italy, everyone in the community gathered for mass and then a festival around a roaring bonfire in the center of the piazza. Multicolored candle lanterns were passed to the crowd, everyone sang Christmas songs, and the children held hands and danced around the fire. My American heart grew three sizes that day.