The holidays in Italy

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Christmas in Italy

There are several important holidays that Italians celebrate during the Christmas season (periodo di Natale), which begins on December 8th with L’Immacolata and ends on January 6th with L’Epifania. The feast of Santa Lucia on December 13th is also an important holiday in northern Italy. This saint day is celebrated with candles, special pastries and presents for children who have been good during the year.

See the table below for a list of the important celebrations that take place in Italy during the Christmas season and some common phrases that Italians use to wish each other “happy holidays.” We first encountered these phrases in our blog What I wish… for the holidays! 

 

L’Immacolata Feast of the Immaculate Conception: Catholic holiday that celebrates mother Mary. 
Vigilia di Natale
Natale
Christmas Eve
Christmas
Buon Natale!
Buone Feste!
Merry Christmas!
Happy Holidays!
Auguri di buon Natale! Best wishes for a merry Christmas!
Tanti Auguri! / Auguri! Best wishes!
Il biglietto di auguri Natalizi
Regalo di Natale
Christmas greeting card
Christmas gift
L’ultimo dell’anno New Year’s Eve
La notte di San Silvestro December 31st is the feast day of San Silvestro for the Catholic church.
Capodanno New Year’s Day
Buon anno nuovo!
Buon anno!
Happy New Year! (used most often)
Felice anno nuovo! Happy New Year!
L’Epifania Epiphany: Catholic holiday that celebrates when “Wise Men” visited the baby Jesus. In Italy, gifts are exchanged on this day.   Italian tradition holds that a friendly witch, La Befana, brings gifts to children on this day, although Santa Claus is also celebrated.

 


 

Chanukah in Italy

The Jewish holiday Chanukah, also known as the festival of lights (le feste delle luci), is celebrated for a period of 8 days, and on today’s calendar falls sometime in the month of December. On the Hebrew calendar, (based on the phases of the moon), Chanukah begins on the evening of the 25th day of the ninth month, which is the month of Kislev.  This holiday is also commonly spelled Hanukkah when translated into English from the Hebrew (l’ebraico) characters.  During Chanukah, those of Jewish faith set aside eight days to commemorate the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BCE. It is said that a miracle occurred at that time, when only a small amount of holy oil found in the temple, enough for only one day, burned for instead for eight days.

The date of the Chanukah celebration will change each year on the Gregorian calendar we use today (which is based on the sun).  In 2021, Chanukah will begin the evening of November 28 and end on the evening of December 6. It should be no surprise that Chanukah is celebrated in Italy, since the first Jewish settlers arrived in Rome from their homeland in Israel as far back as 160 BCE, after fleeing from the rule of the Syrian King Antiochus. The Jewish settlement in Rome is probably the oldest in the world outside of the Middle East. In 1555, by decree of Pope Paul IV, the Jewish people of Rome (gli ebrei) were enclosed within the walls of  a portion of Rome situated across the Tiber River. This area (quartiere ebraico) came to be called the Jewish ghetto (ghetto) in reference to the poor living conditions at the time, but it was, and still is, the center of Jewish life in Rome today. Other ancient Jewish settlements can be found in Venice, Milan, Florence,  Palermo and in many other cities in Sicily.

 

To celebrate Chanukah, those of the Jewish faith gather with the family each evening before dinner to say prayers and light a special candelabra with nine arms, called a Menorah (candelabro ebraico a nove bracci).  The ninth candle, from the tallest arm in the center of the Menorah, is lit first and then used to light the other eight. One additional candle is lit each night, until the entire Menorah is glowing on the last night. In Rome, there is a grand, 20 foot tall Menorah in the Jewish section at Piazza Barberini that is lit every year and followed by a street party with dancing. At home, children are typically given one present (un regalo) each evening and play with a Driedel, which is a type of spinning top (una trottola) with Hebrew letters on each side. To wish someone a Happy Chanukah, simply say, “Auguri!” (Best wishes!) or “Buon CHanukah!” or “Felice Chanukah!

As with all holidays celebrated in Italy, there are traditional Italian foods served at  Chanukah dinners each night, with an emphasis on fried foods, including Italian fried chicken (pollo fritto). This fried chicken is first marinated in olive oil with garlic and lemon, and then rolled in flour and dipped in beaten egg to create a light coating before  frying. Brisket (la punta di petto) is also popular. Simple common accompaniments include applesauce, bread, and dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and sour cream.

Special Italian side dishes popular for Chanukah have existed for centuries in the Roman Jewish culinary history and include artichokes and eggplants fried in olive oil and garlic (Carciofi alla Giudia and Melanzane alla Giudia). Unfortunately for those of us who live outside of Italy, the variety of Italian artichoke that is necessary to make Carciofi alla Giudia is not usually available. This particular variety of artichoke is small and all leaves are tender, so it can be flattened and then fried whole.

Traditional dishes served throughout the world for Chanukah are also served in Italy, and include latkes (potato fritters — Frittelle di Patate) and blintzes (fried crepes filled with cheese — Crepes al Formaggio Fritte).

A typically Italian Chanukah dessert is a pie with ricotta and cherry or chocolate chip filling (Torta di Rocotta). Other popular Italian desserts include fried donuts, poppy seed cookies shaped like stars, or fried bread shaped like a diamond and flavored with anise and raisins (Fritelle de Chanuka). 


 

When at a holiday party where Italian is spoken, one will surely encounter the introductory phrases and polite responses listed below.

For 2021, my hope is that all people who celebrate the Christmas holiday (le vacanze di Natale) can gather with their loved ones and the new normal will continue to expand to include Christmas parties (le feste di Natale) once again.

And for those of the Jewish faith, that they may celebrate Chanukah together with their family, in the tradition that they have followed for thousands of years.

 

An Italian Holiday Party Conversation

Introductions:

The most common Italian introduction at a gathering is a familiar phrase — a phrase used when a person introduces one of their friends to another. For example, let’s assume Pietro and Caterina are friends. Pietro wants to introduce Caterina to another of his friends, Paolo. He will do this with the simple sentence, “Caterina, ti presento il mio amico Paolo.” Pietro uses the informal “ti” since he is already friends with Caterina, the person to whom he is speaking. 

In a more formal situation, Pietro may want to introduce someone he does not know well to one of his friends. In this case, if Pietro is addressing either a woman or a man, he will need to use “Le” (“polite you” indirect object pronoun). Keeping in the polite mode of conversation, Pietro will likely introduce one guest to another using their last names with a polite title, such as il Signor (Mr.), la Signora (Mrs.), or la Signorina (Miss).

In English we do not use the same sentence structure as in Italian, so the English translation of these phrases will not follow the Italian word for word. We may start out with “Let me” or “I would like to” and then add “introduce you to…” Also, in an informal situation, English speakers in America tend to omit the “Let me introduce you to” altogether. Instead, an English speaker might just say something like, “Kathy, meet my friend Paul.”

Several options to use when making an introduction are listed below. Remember to use the definite article before the title!

Caterina, ti presento il mio amico Paolo. Kathy, let me introduce you to my friend Paul.
Kathy, meet my friend Paul.
Signor Rossi, Le presento il Signor Manzini. Mr. Rossi, let me introduce you to Mr. Manzini.
Signora Rossi, Le presento il Signor Manzini. Mrs. Rossi, let me introduce you to Mr. Manzini.
Signorina Rossi, Le presento il Signor Manzini. Miss Rossi, I would like to introduce you to Mr. Manzini.

Responses:

At first glance, the responses to an Italian introduction may seem a bit complicated, because they have several variations. The most important key to understanding which of these variations to choose is the formality of the situation.

In the initial phrases in this table, “Piacere di conoscerla and “Piacere di conoscerti, the difference between the two phrases will depend on whether one is speaking in the polite (pol.) or the familiar (fam.). The polite phrases are given first in our example list, as it is the norm in Italy to use the polite form with a new acquaintance. The familiar form of this phrase is often be used between younger people, who tend to be less formal, and may also be appropriate among older adults of the same age or social status. If you need a refresher on when to use polite and formal Italian phrases, please refer to our blog Becoming friends with ‘Dare del tu’.”

The other reason there are so many variations to learn when introductions are made is the Italian use of masculine and feminine nouns and adjectives.  Every Italian student learns early on that nouns and adjectives must agree in gender and number.*  At first, it may not be obvious that one is using an adjective at the beginning of the sentence, Lieto(a) di conoscerla/ti,” since these phrases are used so often in Italy that the subject and verb of the sentence, “I am…” have been left out! The full sentence, “I am delighted to meet you,” though, makes it clear that the verb essere (to be) is in use, and of course the ending for the adjective lieto(a) for delighted must reflect back to the gender of the speaker to make sense.

The easiest thing for the Italian student to do, of course, is to pick out the phrase that corresponds to their own situation and memorize the endings. But these phrases provide a good opportunity to learn how to change Italian endings quickly and easily and can provide a pattern for more complicated sentences. For the examples below, the nouns, adverbs, and prepositions are black, the verbs green, the polite/familiar pronouns red, the masculine adjectives blue, and the feminine adjectives brown.

Piacere di conoscerla.
Piacere di conoscerti.
Pleased to meet you (pol.).
Please to meet you (fam.).
Piacere mio. The pleasure is mine.
Lieto di conoscerla.
Lieta di conoscerla.
Lieto di conoscerti.
Lieta di conoscerti.
Delighted (masc. speaker) to meet you (pol.).
Delighted (fem. speaker) to meet you (pol.).
Delighted (masc. speaker) to meet you (fam.).
Delighted (fem. speaker) to meet you (fam.).
Molto lieto!
Molto lieta!
Delighted! (masc. speaker)
Delighted! (fem. speaker)
Sono molto contento di vederla.
Sono molto contenta di vederla.
Sono molto contento di vederti.
Sono molto contenta di vederti.
(I) am very happy (masc. speaker) to see you (pol.).
(I) am very happy (fem. speaker) to see you (pol.).
(I) am very happy (masc. speaker) to see you (fam.).
(I) am very happy (fem. speaker) to see you (pol.).
Sono felice di rivederla.
Sono felice di rivederti.
(I) am happy to see you (pol.) again.
(I) am happy to see you (fam.) again.

*Italian nouns are assigned a gender, either masculine or feminine. Italian adjectives, which modify nouns, will change their endings to match the noun modified. In general, Italian nouns will end in -o if masculine and -a if feminine. A noun that ends in -e can be either masculine or feminine. There are, of course, many exceptions to these rules!

 


 

Below is an excerpt from the Conversational Italian for Travelers story found on the website www.learntravelitalian.com.  This short dialogue will allow us to put together all we have discussed about what to say when introducing and meeting others at an Italian holiday party. In this dialogue, Pietro introduces his cousin Caterina to his friends Luigi and Paolo. This simple conversation uses phrases that are repeated over and over again at Italian gatherings of every type.

At the end of the dialogue printed here is a common transition phrase that takes Caterina into the familiar form with Pietro’s friends, “Diamoci del tu, per favore!” We have discussed this phrase and others used to make the transition from a polite to a formal situation in a previous blog, Becoming friends with ‘Dare del tu’.” With this simple line, a friendly conversation can truly begin! To listen to the remainder this conversation in its entirety, just click on the link It’s a Party!

 

Pietro: Caterina, ti presento il mio amico Paolo.
Kathy, (I) introduce to you (fam.) my friend Paul.
Caterina: Piacere di conoscerla.
(It is a) pleasure to meet you (fam.).
(Caterina uses the polite form for a person she has just met,
even though Paolo is Pietro’s friend.)
Pietro: E questo è il mio amico Luigi.
And this is my friend Louis.
Caterina: Piacere.
(It is) a pleasure.
 
Luigi: Piacere mio. Io sono professore dell’italiano, come Pietro.
Paolo è un medico.
(The) pleasure is mine. I am (an) Italian professor, like Peter.
Paul is a physician.
 
Caterina: Molto interessante.
Very interesting.
Paolo: Io sono di Novara, una città vicino a Milano.
Diamoci del tu, per favore!
I am from Novara, a town near to Milan.
Let’s use the familiar form of you with each other, please!
(Paolo officially asks if he can use the familiar,
or “tu” form with Caterina.)
 
Caterina: Va bene. Volentieri!
O.K. Gladly!

 

Warm wishes for a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah
and a Happy New Year
filled with treasured time
together with family and friends!

Auguri a tutti voi!

About Kathryn Occhipinti

Dr. Kathryn Occhipinti is a radiologist who has been leading Italian language groups in the Peoria and Chicago areas for more than 10 years. She is the author of the “Conversational Italian for Travelers” series of books to teach adults Italian with the vocabulary they need to travel to Italy. She is very active on social media promoting Italian language and culture through her Facebook group Conversational Italian! as well on Twitter @travelitalian1. Links to audio for her Italian language dialogues and her blogs for beginning and intermediate Italian can be found at www.learntravelitalian.com.

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4 comments

  1. Love these Italian lessons; I learn so much. But with learning comes questions.

    In your example from this lesson, why isn’t “molto” in the feminine form for the female examples?

    Sono molto contento di vederla.
    Sono molto contenta di vederla.
    Sono molto contento di vederti.
    Sono molto contenta di vederti. (I) am very happy (masc. speaker) to see you (pol.).
    (I) am very happy (fem. speaker) to see you (pol.).
    (I) am very happy (masc. speaker) to see you (fam.).
    (I) am very happy (fem. speaker) to see you (pol.).

    Interested in your thoughts – grazie mille,
    Diane H.

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