Christmas is a beautiful time of year. At Casa La Pace, we have 2 special reasons to love the season.
The first is our ‘annual’ Christmas party. For the second year, we have invited all of our friends to our house. Our friends are a great mix of Italians and
expatriots. There are the locals of Ghivizzano, including Samanta and Albano and Giuseppe and Marcella. Friends also drive from Lucca, mostly from the now-defunct ‘meet-up’, including Christina and Giuseppe. This year, Rusty’s Mom and dear friends from Little Rock were also staying with us.
The evening began with a potluck dinner, a concept relatively foreign to most Italians. To them, it is unusual to have the food all on the table at the same time, instead of served as a series of dishes. We had Columbian-style chicken and rice, vegetarian dip, and, of course, many Italian options. Albano provided a special treat in the form of necci, chestnut pancakes that have a long history in the Serchio Valley and the Garfagnana. He prepared them on the stove top using traditional metal pallets.
After several hours of eating and drinking, we moved to the salone for the ‘white elephant’ gift exchange. Here too our friends were introduced to a fun idea. At first, some coaching was required. But eventually everyone embraced the idea of stealing someone else’s gift.
As our guests departed, we were happy to once again host a festive gathering of our closest friends. When we have guests, our friends are neglected. Fortunately for us, they understand and are available when we have precious time to spend with them.
The second holiday event was the “Precepe Vivente” (Living Nativity) in Ghivizzano Alto. Two years ago a heavy snow forced the cancellation. Last year, major restoration of the tower resulted in its cancellation. This year, the tower renovations are complete and a shiny new elevator has been installed to reach the old church. We were very excited, as this was the first year we attended.
Unexpectedly, Pepper was ‘invited’ to participate (the mayor exerted great pressure, which Pepper was unable to resist). For the event, the old town comes alive, with the villagers dressed in traditional garb and demonstrating traditional crafts. The mayor wanted Pepper to be an artist, painting a scene as visitors stroll by.
The weather had been awful, with heavy rains for 3 days running. Everyone wondered if the rains would force the cancellation of this year’s event. Almost miraculously, at 6 p.m., the rains ceased, as though a spigot had been closed. (As a side note, the weather was atrocious in November and December, right up to December 15. After the Presepe Vivente, we’ve had many more days of sun. And even the cloudy days don’t bring terrible rains, for which I am thankful).
With Pepper ensconced in a dark, isolated corner, I roamed the old town. In each open cantina a story was being acted out. In this one, a woman sold copper pots. In that one, a family poured wax into small tubes for candles.
with wine and sliced meats, and a stand where necci (chestnub pancakes) were cooked over an open flame. In two piazzette were cauldrons bubbling with vin brule’ (mulled wine).
I returned to visit Pepper several times. I brought him food and drink throughout the evening. Surprisingly, many people managed to find him and were interested in his work. He gained two fans, young boys who are budding artists and insisted on impromptu art lessons.
Around 9:30 p.m., Mary and Joseph, followed by the Magi and others, moved silently through the village. At each open cantina, they stopped, knocked, and asked for lodgings. They eventually climbed the stairs to the grounds of the tower, where a manger was waiting, complete with a live donkey. We missed their arrival, but were ‘told’ of Jesus’ birth by the explosion of fireworks.
The crowds were light, but the food was terrific and the villagers put their heart into their roles. Pepper and I enjoyed sharing this tradition with the villagers and getting to know them better. We are honored that the people of Ghivizzano have embraced us as members of the community.