We don’t have a Christmas tree (or any decorations for that matter). The only sign of December inside our apartment is the freezing cold. We bought two more blankets yesterday.
But outside it’s so beautiful. Every street in downtown Perugia is illuminated with big hanging lights. Even on the most rainy and windy nights, we make time to take a walk. It feels so festive and winter-wonderlandy.
One of the things I love most about Italy in December are the nativity scenes. They are everywhere. All the churches have one. Many of the stores too. Even the banks. There seems to be no limit to how grand, gaudy, quirky, confusing, unique, extravagant, or detailed these displays are.
Tonight, Ray and I walked down to Sant’ Antonio Church to see for ourselves what Perugians call the best nativity scene in the city. It was kind of a long walk from our apartment. But as soon as we entered the back room of this church and saw the extravagant display, my throat constricted and I kind of felt like crying. The nativity village was animated with sounds of thunder clapping, a fire crackling, a baby crying, and soft lullabies – all the sounds you might expect from that legendary night. Then after several minutes, everything changed. A rooster crowed and the “sun” rose. The entire scene changed from night to day. Many of the tiny figurines came to life. A woman started baking bread. A man cast a fishing line into the river. And two friends started playing cards. Ray and I stayed for three or four “days” continually finding more hidden details in the scene.
As we left, the attendant thanked us for coming and encouraged us to return when the snow machine is working and the village gets a blizzard.
Another hallmark of a Perugian Christmas are the penguins that line the street on Via dei Priori. These penguins are all designed on cardboard. They stand alone or nestled in groups among window displays. This “Invasion of Penguins” is based on a story about Perugia where all the citizens disappear as penguins fill the streets. It’s cute and kind of fun to look for hidden penguins. But today I talked with a shopkeeper on Via dei Priori who admitted to not liking the story because of its subtle racist undertones. So I picked up a copy of the story to try and figure out what he’s talking about. I’ll let you know.
While our family is bringing very few holiday decorations and fanfare to the season, we are really looking forward to December 25. However, it feels like Christmas will officially start this weekend when my aunt and uncle arrive followed by Matt’s sister and brother-in-law. We are planning big Italian feasts, dreamy winter walks and tours of the nativity decorations.