Moving to a different country, or as in my case, to a different continent, is an adventure. Everything here in the U.S. was new and a little bit overwhelming and Christmas was no exception.
I felt like a little kid in the candy store, when I saw all the colorful Christmas decorations -they were everywhere at the beginning of December. I had seen Christmas markets and decorated stores in Austria and in Italy, but I had never seen houses that were decorated that much. I was in awe and couldn’t wait to see what the rest of the Holiday season would hold in store for me.
December 6th came. Where was St. Nicholas? Why didn’t he show up that day as he used to? I was in my early 20’s, surely too old to believe in Santa, but couldn’t help it. I felt disappointment.
Christmas Evening, the most important night, was no big deal here for my husband and his family, but that changed on the morning of December 25th. Filled stockings and presents were unpacked while everybody was still wearing Pj’s and robes. Strange traditions, just strange.
We ate turkey and ham. Where was my goose and my duck and where was the fish on Christmas Eve? They sipped on eggnog; I longed for hot red wine and warm Amaretto and there was a strange fruitcake instead of the Panettone and the Stollen I was used to.
I sat down and told my new family about the traditions I grew up with. How we put up the tree on the 24th of December but left it up until January 7th, when we celebrated Epiphany. That night they heard for the first time about La Befana, the ugly witch that brings the presents on January 6th and I told them everything I knew about St. Nicholas and Krampus.
Life is about finding solutions, marriage it’s about making compromises -even if it means you might have to give something up. In our case, we didn’t give much up. We gained instead. My husband and I decided to link our traditions.
We decorate our tree a week before Christmas. St. Nicholas visits us on December 6th and Santa on December 24th. We open the presents fully dressed on Christmas Evening and leave only the stockings for Christmas Morning. We drink eggnog and hot wine. We eat Panettone and Stollen, mixed with American and Austrian cookies. Sadly, the fruitcake had to go -we just couldn’t make room for it.
Watching James Stewart in “It’s a wonderful life,” is as much part of our Holiday tradition as the European candy that I hide in the kitchen.
Our Christmas tree stays up until La Befana ¹ brought the last presents on January 6th and then, and only then…are we all happy.
¹If you don’t know La Befana, this is her story:
La Befana is one of Italy’s oldest and most celebrated legends. Each year on January 6th the children of Italy awaken in hope that La Befana has made a visit to their house. This is a significant day to Italians, because it marks the end of the Christmas season and the day, that the three Wise Men arrived at the manger of the Christ child. Over the years the Epiphany has been a more celebrated holiday for the children of Italy than even Christmas.
As legend has it the three Wise Men were in search of the Christ child when they decided to stop at a small house to ask for directions. Upon knocking, an old woman holding a broom opened the door slightly to see who was there. Standing at her doorstep were three colorfully dressed men, who were in need of directions to find the Christ child. The old woman was unaware of who these three men were looking for and could not point them in the right direction. Prior to the three men leaving, they kindly asked the old woman to join them on their journey. She declined because she had much housework to do. After they left she felt as though she had made a mistake and decided to go and catch up with the kind men. After many hours of searching, she could not find them. Thinking of the opportunity she had missed the old woman stopped every child to give them a small treat in hopes that one was the Christ child. Each year on the eve of the Epiphany she sets out looking for the baby Jesus. She stops at each child’s house to leave those who were good treats in their stockings and those who were bad a lump of coal.