Blessie R. is currently a junior at SYA Italy and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from Milton Academy in Massachusetts.
"You know, it's funny - every time I find myself walking down the streets, I feel like I'm in a movie. It just doesn't feel like any of this could be real. " I nodded in resounding agreement and couldn't help but find peculiarity in the notion that four months in, I could have felt the same as someone who had been here for a mere three days; however, as someone who had only ever celebrated the holidays in a big city like Boston, it didn't exactly come as a shock that spending Christmas in a small Italian city would've been all that different.
Think holiday Hallmark movie - you know, without the bad acting, cheesy romance, and in-real-life English subtitles to help understand the in-real-life Italian dub. Lights hung throughout the center, filling in every obscure nook and cranny that made up the town of Viterbo. Blasting unabashedly throughout the comune were your classic Christmas songs, ex. We Wish You a Merry Christmas (yes, in English) with the occasional Mistle Toe by Justin Bieber. Right outside of the Palazzo dei Papa was an ice skating rink surrounded by several food carts. Closer to the center was a section of town called Sacrario which was comprised of Christmas markets sponsored by local shop-owners within various parts of the province.
I sat myself down to a late breakfast of cooled espresso and a slice of pandoro, a typical Italian dessert comprised of an angel-cakeisque sweet bread sprinkled with a hefty amount of powdered sugar. Sitting with me was Nonna - my Italian grandmother - and my host brother's girlfriend's parents. Arriving later would be his girlfriend as well as her two sisters and brother. This past winter break, I had the pleasure of celebrating the holidays in Viterbo with both my host family and the American family of my host brother's girlfriend, someone who he had met in his time studying abroad in America. Having come from Boston as well, both she and her family's presence helped to partially reduce the sense of homesickness that I had been experiencing for the past couple of weeks. In the few days leading up to Christmas, I spent a good amount of time at dinners with them, either in helping with back-and-forth translations or bonding over shared experiences regarding either Boston or initial impressions of Viterbo and - more generally, Italian culture.
Then came the day of la vigilia di Natale: Christmas Eve. Now, I could spend the rest of this post writing in excruciating, unsolicited detail about every single minute of that day. I could describe every one of the seven dishes of fish that we had that night - from the chopped octopi on bruschette or the fish-stuffed cannelloni. I could talk about the warmth that emitted from the chimney place, the logs crackling, borderline-hissing once burnt. I could talk about all these things and more but no words could - as much as I've already tried, fully encapsulate the amount of love, spirit, and joy that was captured in that one night alone. I still remember the anticipation I felt bearing witness to the sight of my host family reaching to gifts that I had gotten for them just the day before via a spontaneous day trip to Rome. (Hope you enjoy those Minion-themed socks, Dav!) As cliche as it might and may have already sounded, there's a reason why it is as well as why it bears repeating: it's not necessarily the "things" that make up your experience so much as it is the people that you surround yourself with. This past Christmas that I spent with my host family was a prime example of that. Nevermind the obligatory dress-up-for-the-Insta photos or the level of "want" for the actual gift(s) themselves. As great as all of those are, they can never match the happiness I felt in simply being around them even at a time when my American family was unable to. Forget about leaving milk and cookies out for Santa to come with a flying reindeer let alone a red nose: I've found Christmas magic and it's with my host family right here in Viterbo.
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