White Christmas Day Eve? Not quite. It’s more of a rainy, eerily foggy version of the holiday. But, we still have a few hours for the temperature to drop so that the rain can turn to snow. The weather is about as fickle here as it is in New England, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a fresh batch of neve were delivered just in time for Christmas. And, if I wake up tomorrow and see mud in place of snow, it won’t matter. The downpours outside can’t dampen the feeling of Christmas.
Since my revelation last week that I was coming up short in the Natale spirit department, I kicked my holiday prep into high gear. A team dinner, a Christmas market in Torino, Home Alone, Love Actually, Mariah Carey, and, as you know, Christmas cookies. Which reminds me! I’m happy to report that I got somewhat of the Christmas miracle I was hoping for in my cookie baking. As it turns out, the flour in Italy is commonly sold senza lievito, or, without yeast. Which would explain the lack of volume in my White Chip (or Chunk, in my case) Chocolate Cookies. Since one of the other wives notified me of this discrepancy and a sweet woman at the corner market guided me to the packets of lievito that need to be added as compensation, the second day of baking was far more successful than the first. That’s not to say they were perfect by any means. And the science behind the fact that they look and taste different than they do back home is still a mystery. There are not enough control factors in my baking experiment to attribute all differences to a single cause. There was the inconsistent temperature of the oven, the unreliable baking surface of the pan, and the substitutions I had to use for some of the ingredients . Putting my curiosity aside, I’ll agree that they all turned out good enough. At the very least, I’ll use the Italian term I’ve seen in some of the pasticceria windows next to ugly baked goods on display: brutta e buono.
Perhaps even more fun than baking the cookies and maybe even more delightful than eating them, was giving them out. Between myself and two other girls, we completed a total of nine types of cookies. Last night, we packed them up on festive plates, sealed them with plastic and tied them off with ribbon. My two cookie accomplices made deliveries to recipients in Torre Pellice and I dropped them off to the people in Luserna. The coffee shop woman who first helped me with my Italian, the owners of the corner deli and market, the day-care staff, and my neighbors. Not a single person batted an eye at the flattened, misshapen desserts. The wife of the late Giovanni even invited me inside for a visit with her and her sister. I happily accepted her invitation. Though I had spoken to Giovanni on numerous occasions, I hadn’t spoken to her except to offer my condolences when Giovanni passed away. She showed me her beautiful manger display and urged me to sit down while she tied up a little bag of Lindt chocolates for me and Kevin. I spent about a half an hour with the cute, little old ladies. They told me about their holiday family traditions. Giovanni came up a few times in conversation which is not surprise seeing as this is the first Christmas in over 50 years without him. Since I did not know how to say in Italian what I would have said in English, I just listened. I think that was enough. She went on to talk about how grateful she is to have so much family close by and how she has been keeping very busy getting ready for the holidays. Her sister nodded and the two listened patiently as I contributed as much as I could to the conversations about Christmas and how the U.S is different from Italy. When I left the third floor apartment, I felt very content. Who would’ve guessed that cookies would lead to such a pleasant visit with a neighbor?
Following the fulfilling cookie distribution last night, I finished off the week of Christmas spirit with this morning’s trip to the grocery store/mall. As it turns out, the last minute shopping chaos is an international phenomenon. I felt like I was back at home, wading through people at the Westfield Shopping Center in search of gifts as I scurried through the Ipercoop, collecting enough food to last us through two consecutive dinner parties and a pre-game meal. But braving the masses was all part of my master-plan. It was yet another indication that Christmas is really here.
So, long story long, I accomplished the goal set last Saturday to appease some spontaneous tears. It feels like Christmas. And so, today, I want to give thanks to everyone who taught me what Christmas feels like and to those who helped me recreate it here. As I finish out the evening with an ugly sweater party, go to church tomorrow morning, and finish out Christmas day with another dinner in the company of new friends, I will be grateful for the spirit of such a beautiful season. Merry Christmas!