Caneel, outbound to Italy

I've learned a lot in my first "real" winter. Although there has not been much snow, the winter temperatures have been thrilling enough for me. I'd never known about neck warmers or how important layering is. I also saw that your winter wardrobe doesn't need to be very big, just a pair of jeans and a sweater, because the shirt(s) you wear underneath never get seen. This means you look the exact same in every picture- the same jeans and winter coat. The only aspect differentiating the days or pictures is your background or who you are with (instead of one bundled up Eskimo, there's two).

In addition to the weather this winter, Christmas was also very different for me. I really enjoyed how the entire season was focused on spending time with both friends and family, and food (often intertwining so you got both at once). Christmas trees were the same, but lights and other decorations outside the houses were a lot less common. I went to four or five Christmas dinners/ lunches: one with all the coaches in my soccer program, one with four other families where we all exchanged gifts, another with my host sisters friends, another with my host aunt and uncle and their kids, another with both sets of grandparents, another with Rotary... The list goes on. All of them were huge celebrations, eating a ton of great food and exchanging good wishes for Christmas and the new year as well as reflecting on what we had done and what we planned to do this year. An added bonus was Santa Lucia who came on the 13th of December, so it was fun to learn about that tradition for the kids (the Italian version of a Santa who brings candies and board games except it's a women who rides a donkey and drinks the wine that you leave out for her instead of a man on a sleigh with reindeer who drinks milk.

The Pre-Christmas season however also felt a lot shorter than normal because I had my first day of Christmas break on the 23rd. Although this period was stressful for my sisters because it was filled with tests, it was nowhere near the exams that I was used to in the US. One day of break and then it was Christmas eve.

We started off the festivities on Christmas Eve by going over for dinner at 8 at the host cousins house (Stefano, Giulio, Danielle, and Daniella), joined by the grandparents (Nonni) to have a large fish themed dinner. We brought all of our gifts including the ones between our family to exchange at their house (all my gifts that I had brought from Florida filled half of the big box that we brought over- I had brought enough gifts to be sufficient for an American Christmas, whereas here they really give and get one gift for everyone). All of us "kids" got three gifts- one from parents, one from grandparents, and one from Aunt/ Uncle (it was funny because my host mom had bought pajamas for the cousins to be our family's gift to them and then they had gotten us girls pajama sets as well haha- which was a perfect gift for me because I didn't have any cool weather pajamas). . It was refreshing because each gift was really thought out and meaningful, it wasn't a lot of things that you kinda liked, but just one big one from your family. I had brought a lot of gifts with me to give my family, so I think I overwhelmed everyone a bit, but I loved that I had gotten to know my family well enough to know who would appreciate what. After, we played a game of "Clue" before heading to the midnight Christmas Eve service where my host mom read one of the liturgy readings. It was very casual when compared to what I was used to in the States. I had known that it wasn't normal for Italians to dress up for church, but I assumed that Christmas would be the exception.. I wore a nice red dress and when we went to the service, I was the only one wearing a dress

The actual Christmas Eve and Christmas day traditions were new for me as well. Christmas Eve consisted of my family getting together with one of my host cousin's families and grandparents to have a large fish themed dinner and then playing the "Clue" board game before exchanging Christmas gifts. All of us "kids" got three gifts- one from parents, one from grandparents, and one from Aunt/ Uncle. It was refreshing because each gift was really thought out and meaningful, it wasn't a lot of things that you kinda liked, but just one big one from your family. I had brought a lot of gifts with me to give my family, so I think I overwhelmed everyone a bit, but I loved having getting to know my family enough to know who would appreciate what. After, we headed to the midnight Christmas Eve service where my host mom read one of the liturgy readings. It was also very casual when compared to what I was used to in the states because I had known that it wasn't normal for Italians to dress up for church, but I assumed that Christmas would be the exception.. I wore a nice red dress and when we went to the service, I was the only one wearing a dress.

Christmas was the opposite. I was used to wearing pajamas for the whole day, so when I came out in jeans and a t-shirt, my host mom nicely suggested that I might want to change back into the "nice red dress from last night". The whole day consisted of eating, from sunup to sundown. The same people who went to the family dinner the night before all went to my grandparents house for lunch and dinner. We started with a large "aperitivo" course with little sandwiches, a meat tray, bread, vegetables soaked in vinegar, and more. Next came the "Primo piatto" of broth with ravioli's. The "Segundo piatto" was the meat course: cow tongue, rabbit, and chicken served with lentils. The dessert course was a choice of Pandoro o Panettone. Two airy cake like desserts. The pandoro has powdered sugar on top and the panettone can be eaten with or without cream and has little pieces of fruit inside. These are the desserts for Christmas. Any dinner in the month of December or January will have an option of one or both of these for dessert. Other family members also stopped by the house for various amounts of time during the course of the afternoon. When it came time for dinner, we had all somehow managed to regain our appetites and ate the leftovers from lunch. After, we wrapped up the evening by playing card games (I taught them some and they taught me some) and my new favorite board game, called "Carcassone". It was my first Christmas away from home and I wouldn't have rather had it any other way.

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