Christmas in the Italian Countryside

Dr. Donna L. Roberts

A Comfy Christmas Memory

Image by Asilvis72 from Pixabay

“Come out of your houses now, everyone”, squawked the loudspeaker in the middle of the night. I cracked one eye open to peek out the window and saw a blaze of searchlights outside, with flashing emergency lights whirling. What on earth could possibly be happening?

It was just after midnight in Aviano, Italy, at the start of the winter holidays. I lived in the countryside, close to the American Air Force base where I worked as a college professor. We were just beginning the winter break and I was looking forward to sleeping in. There had been some rumbling in the night, something we were used to in the area because of the flight-line air traffic. It never stopped, but waxed and waned, depending on the military mission.

This part of Italy is earthquake prone. Once, a particularly strong tremor cut our electricity. The local firemen, assisted by military base officials, came to the outlying areas to check for household gas leaks and structural damage. It seemed that it had happened again. This time, I’d managed to sleep through an earthquake, just as my grandma always joked that I would.

I loved my life in Italy. As a professor, I taught some of my classes in person, while others were taught online from my home. Gone were the stifling tailored suits and designer labels of my office working days. Now I could dress more casually and comfortably when teaching classes, or downright slovenly while grading papers and assignments from home.

Photo by Alexander Sergienko on Unsplash

Winters in Northern Italy can be surprising cold and fuel prices are high, so we learned to dress in layers when lounging around the house. Too frugal to throw out old clothing, I would choose the most comfy odd bits to wear around the house, often resulting in a look like some sort of mad professor in a Dickens story.

In my candy cane striped yoga pants, rubber ducky boots, T-shirt with Foxy Lady written in bold, green glitter, ragged fingerless gloves, worn wool cap, and a torn military camouflage jacket covering the scintillating ensemble, I unknowingly made quite a statement in what I would later realize was an impromptu fashion show.

As I stumbled down my steps, with the glare of the spotlights bouncing off my glittering shirt, the neighbor next door floated down the steps from her place dressed in a delicate, mauve nightgown with matching slippers, perfectly coiffed hair and makeup, in a dainty cloud of expensive fragrance. Leave it to the Italians to manage such elegance in the middle of the night, right after an earthquake.

As other neighbors followed, outdoing each other in style and grace, I stuck out like an old, leftover fruitcake on a fresh pastry shelf. Who knew I’d be the accidental spectacle of the midnight model runway show. The neighbors whispered, “She’s an American”, as if that explained it all.

I’d just survived an earthquake, and now was the interesting subject of friendly neighborhood gossip. As an American, I relished being different, while still fitting in. The local Italian population loved the Americans, who brought wealth and a certain quirkiness to their area.

Though conformists themselves, they loved that we could be different and still be completely comfortable with ourselves. We managed to get along exceptionally well, despite having plenty of differences. Live and let live was a way of life here.

We spent the night joking and laughing together, singing Italian songs in the street, while drinking hot chocolate and nibbling cookies, as the firefighters completed their inspections. It was a positive, memorable beginning to my first Christmas in Italy, and a great way to meet my neighbors. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good-Night.


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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.

Canandaigua, NY

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