This month’s lesson deviates from our traditional lesson to one dedicated to Valentine’s Day, Italian-style.
Italian lovers are famous throughout history: Paolo and Francesca, the ill-fated pair described in Dante’s “La Divina Commedia;” Romeo e Giulietta (Romeo and Juliet), the two young lovers from Verona immortalized by Shakespeare; and Renzo and Lucia in “I Promessi Sposi,” written by Alessandro Manzoni from 1825-27, who succeeded in marrying each other only after overcoming many difficulties and obstacles.
In classical history, the Roman holiday Lupercalia was a pagan spring celebration. Priests called luperci participated in ritual sacrifices and fertility rites during the wild, chaotic festivities.
So with all this history of love and romance, spring lust and eros, debauchery and revelry, it would only seem natural that Italy, the purported land of romance, would celebrate Valentine’s Day with great passion and joy.
Although Italy may be the country of love and lovers, the holiday as it is celebrated today in Italy has taken on an American flavor, much like Halloween or Mother’s Day. The big difference is that in Italy it is exclusively a celebration for couples or lovers. Children, family members, and friends do not exchange cards or presents.
However, for those who are in love, Valentine’s Day in Italy is an important day to show their beloved how much they care. Depending on the age of the pair, gifts could include red roses or perfume, diamonds, or the traditional box of ciccolatini.
The Italian language is rich in a vocabulary of expressions and idioms, and frasi d’amore on Valentine’s Day are especially endearing. In English, the expression “I love you” is ubiquitous; while in Italian “Ti amo” is used only between lovers, never with friends, family, or inanimate objects. Instead, the expression “Ti voglio bene” is preferred.
Here are some words and key phrases to impress your “tesoro” this Valentine’s Day.