Holiday traditions and more cultural mish-mashing: My first Christmas in Italy


christmas table plates rosemary coca cola bottles candlesMost years I head back to Michigan during the holidays for a brief snowy winter (very enjoyable when there for only a couple short weeks). This year, though, my husband and I stuck around Rome for the holidays.

I love the idea of combining traditions and cultures to create our own unique customs. I don’t like the idea that things should be done in a particular way because that’s how it always has been. I think the world often changes for a reason, though this doesn’t mean we should automatically forsake everything traditional in pursuit of some mystical “modernity”.

I think that if we view traditions rooted in our families’ pasts and our cultural customs as flexible and adaptable, they can be powerful and relevant parts of our lives. Traditions can be something that make us feel closer to our loved ones. When they become restrictive they can make us feel trapped, uncomfortable and even unwelcome. We have to view tradition as a creative action which we continue year after year in the ways that best suit us and those we love.


family christmas holiday tree star lights ornaments dog dress

In my parents’ house, we have always had homemade pizza and milkshakes on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day was an enormous turkey and all kinds of home cooked goodies for lunch – stuffing, mashed potatoes, and a hundred kinds of pie. In most of Italy, families eat a fish-based dinner on Christmas Eve, and a meat-based one on the day of.

Flavio and I spent our first Christmas together in our tiny London flat. We compromised by splitting our favorite traditions half and half: we opened some gifts at night – like his family does – and some the next morning – like we do in mine. He cooked dinner on the 24th, and I prepared an all-American feast for lunch on the 25th.

This year, we applied the same logic to Christmas in Rome. We celebrated Italian-style at his parents’ place on Christmas Eve, and invited them to ours for an Ameican style lunch on the 25th. Along with the turkey and mashed potatoes, we had his grandma’s pappa nel sacco (more or less a white lasagna soaked in broth). When the day was done, we had an all-new mish-mash of traditions to continue (or not) in the years to come.

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