The Christmas season in Tuscany has little resemblance to our U.S. commercial run up to the celebration of baby Jesus. A dozen years ago, Jill and I had the good fortune to feel the divine spirit of Natale in it’s pure form. In nearly every Italian village the presepio (nativity) evangelizes inhabitants and visitors. The passing faithful pause to acknowledge the reason for the season.
In our only winter in the old country, we felt compelled to visit as many religious manger scenes as possible. One particular stop was to Le Celle, the hermitage where San Francesco (Saint Francis) took up residence before his trek to Assisi. Set back in the picturesque Tuscan hills near Cortona, the 800-year-old holy site once housed 300 Monks. Today, just four Fratelli occupy this important pilgrimage site. During our evening visit, each of the sixty windows glowed with a candle. At the peak of the hill rested a softly lit presepio. Emotion, gratitude, and an elevated spiritual connection made this one of my most important Christmas memories.
Another noticeable reminder that an important holiday is coming includes the seasonal greeting “Auguri”. In nearly every storefront and even streetscapes (as in the photo above) this special salutation greets all passing through. As with almost every fond memory we carried back stateside, the time spent at the dining room tables of our closest friends will always be in the front of my heart, mind, and stomach. Tortellini, the official pasta of Christmas opens every meal with four courses and plenty of vino follow.
Merry Christmas and Auguri to all of you!