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Italian Lesson – December 2021

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Natale all’italiana

Unlike the United States, which generally recognizes Thanksgiving as the day that ushers in the nation’s Christmas holiday season, in Italy “the season opener” can vary. Depending on where in Italy you are, it can be anywhere from the first Sunday of Advent, which this year fell on Nov. 28, St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6 or Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. For the most part, the Feast of Immaculate Conception (l’Immacolata Concezione) is the most recognized day as the season’s beginning. Though it is a Catholic holy day, it is also recognized as a national Italian holiday, with all public offices and schools closed.

The second most popular day for welcoming the Christmas season in Italy is the Feast of St. Nicholas (La Festa di San Nicola). In areas where he is venerated, on that day, old traditions are played out to honor him and ring in the season, the best-known being that on the eve of St. Nicholas Day children place their shoes by the fireplace (vicino il focolare) or under their bed (sotto il letto). The next morning the children find their shoes filled with little presents from the great saint.

From the season’s onset to the last day of the season Jan. 6, the Epiphany (l’Epifania), other Christmas-related holidays take place Dec. 13, Festa di Santa Lucia; Dec. 24, La Vigilia di Natale; Dec. 26, Festa di Santo Stefano; Dec. 28, Festa degl’Innocenti and Dec. 31, La Festa di San Silvestro or La Vigilia di Capo d’Anno. Some Italians still hold the tradition of the Festa del Candelora on Feb. 2 when they take down the presepio. Another day, though not a holiday per se, is Dec.16, known as La Novena di Natale. Novena, Latin for the ordinal number, ninth, indicates the nine-day period prior to Christmas Day. Activities begin in full force, especially the visit to the presepi by the zampognari to serenade il Bambino Gesu`.

If you want to increase or improve your Italian Christmas vocabulary, here are some words and expressions to practice before the big day arrives!

Let’s start with greetings for the season.

Buon NataleMerry Christmas
Buon Capo d’Anno or Buon Anno NuovoHappy New Year
Buone FesteHappy Holidays

Now let’s move on to other useful Christmas holiday-time expressions:

• addobbo / addobbi – decoration / decorations
• albero / alberi di Natale – Christmas tree / trees
• angelo / angeli – angel / angels
• Babbo Natale – Santa Claus
• la Befana – the Befana Christmas witch
• calza / calze – stocking / stockings
• camino / camini – chimney / chimneys
• campanella / campanelle – bell / bells
• candela / candele – candle / candles
• canto natalizio / canti natalizi – Christmas carol / carols
• carta da regalo – wrapping paper
• chiesa / chiese – church / churches
• elfo / elfi – elf / elves
• festeggiare – to celebrate
• Gesù Bambino – Baby Jesus
• il giorno di Natale – Christmas Day
• il giorno di Santo Stefano – Feast of St. Stephen (Boxing Day)
• Giuseppe – Joseph
• inverno – winter
• luce / luci – light / lights
• stella / stelle – star / stars
• Maria – Mary
• mercatino / mercatini di Natale – Christmas market / markets
• la messa di Mezzanotte – midnight mass
• Natale – Christmas
• neve – snow
• pallina / palline – ball / balls
• pandoro – a traditional Italian cake for the Christmas season
• panettone – a traditional Italian cake for the Christmas season
• pranzo di Natale – Christmas lunch
• pregare – to pray
• presepe / presepi – Nativity scene / scenes
• pupazzo / pupazzi di neve – snowman / snowmen
• regalo / regali – gift / gifts
• renna / renne – reindeer / reindeers
• San Nicola – St. Nicholas
• slitta / slitte – sleigh / sleighs
• i Tre Re Magi – the Three Kings
• la vigilia di Natale – Christmas Eve
• vin brulè – mulled wine

This month’s proverb
Napulitane: Carnevale addò te truove, Natale e Pasca a’ casa toia.
Italiano: Carnevale dove ti trovi, Natale e a Pasqua a casa tua.

Literal translation: Carnival time enjoy wherever you are, but Christmas and Easter in your home.

Figuratively: Its meaning implies that at Carnival time go out and enjoy the festivities; your place at Christmas and Easter is home with family.

This month’s falso amico
It is caldo. With the winter upon us, the word cold quickly comes to mind. However, the Italian word for cold is not caldo, as it might appear. Caldo actually means warm. In Italian cold is freddo.