Tree time in Gemonio, and who is Babbo Natale?

Yesterday morning my sweetheart went downstairs to work on (the last) stone curlicue. He was looking forward to finishing and I was anxious that he do so before the nursery school had the big Holiday program in the piazza so that we could relax and do the family on Sunday thing. Robin and I were busy getting our hair shiny for the event when he came back in the door and peeked into the bathroom and told me, “The stone broke. I’m going to have to wait for the epoxy to set.” He smiled at Robin, “Do you want a surprise?” She’s three and a half… there’s only one possible answer. She struggled to keep her eyes closed as her father dragged this 6′ christmas tree into the bathroom and stood it up. She squealed. I think that the tree is her favorite thing about Christmas. They have one at school and she hugs it good-bye everyday as we head home. Now we have our very own, captive in the livingroom.
So, we put it up, got the lights on, were covered in pine needles, and decided (despite the scowling protest of our girl) to put the decorations on over the course of the next few days leading up to Christmas eve so that we save the star for Uncle Frankie’s arrival.

After lunch it was time for the ‘festa’. Robin was doubtful about the idea of going to school on a ‘stay-at-home’ day and all of the promises music by the town band, the distribution of presents, and the fun of being in a parade with the other kids were greeted with the skepticism of a 3 year old who’s favorite pastime is playing games that involve bouncing on top of, over, or in circles around her father. She was, at last, persuaded to be sociable.
In the end she had fun, and so did we. It was sweet to stand in the bustle of other parents and watch her come down the street in a sea of small children behind a tractor that was pulling a 4 piece band (trumpet, sax, bass, and drums). She was wearing her little Santa hat and waving a pom-pom made of red and white crepe paper. They all stood on the steps of the church and sang a religious song (the text of which and my feelings about are a whole ‘nother blog entry!) Then they walked around to the big tree set up in the part of the piazza where there are benches and sang a song about Santa’s House followed by Jingle Bells; and then HE came.
Babbo Natale in person, red suit and a basket on his back filled with packages; red velvet hood slipping over his eyes and white beard and mustache slipping away from his nose, the cuffs of his quilted hunting coat peeking out as he reached with a kind and very grandfatherly, wrinkled hand to pat the cheeks of the smallest and ask their names. A boy of about seven hollered out the name of the kindly local fellow who was playing the part but the little ones weren’t phased in the least. Robin was transfixed, a delighted smile bloomed on her lips, she looked even more beautiful than she usually does. First: red is her VERY favorite colour (though fuscia is beginning to gain ground); Second: I’d been telling her for weeks that Father Christmas (aka Santa Claus aka Babbo Natale) was an imaginary person, like a cartoon character; a figure that people had invented to embody the idea of how nice it feels to give presents. But here he was as perfect as the picture on the holiday sale sheets that arrive in the mail.
As soon as the show was over and the distribution of gifts was to begin we plucked her up out of the throng and she looked at me and said, “But look Mamma, Santa is NOT imaginary, he’s a real live person, he CAME!” What could I say to that, to that glowing certainty? The only thing I could think of was to stick to the part that was true, so I said, “You’re right, it was a real person.” Later she wanted to know just where that Babbo Natale had come from. I answered her again, as honestly as I dared: “Honey, I was so busy watching your face that I didn’t notice anything else.”

By bonniemcclellan

Mother, poet, american ex-pat from Texas living in Northern Italy.


  1. I am finally checking in to your blog! I love it! I'll check back in time to time to see what is going on. I want to taste the coffee at your house! You can keep the watery mug I get here. All my love to you, and I send you my best for the new year.ARielle

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