December has crept up, sweeping through the city with a chilling breeze. As of today, I have only one week left of my semester abroad.
In the weeks leading up to December, utility workers occupied the streets day and night, stringing a sheet of Christmas lights across the entirety of Siena. After sunset on December first the lights are switched on, transforming the city into a glowing nerve, rivers of glittering lights radiating from the central Piazza. Emitting from the street below, their yellow color paints my bedroom walls at night, and fills me with the warmth I need to brace the deepening cold.
Festive cheer is quickly taking hold of the Sienese people now. Musicians play carols on brass instruments and accordions in the streets, shop windows fill with holiday decorations, and grocers stock traditional Italian Christmas treats (lots of panettone, not a lot of it selling). A long white vehicle decked in wreaths and garland occasionally jostles by, with the words il treno di natale written in red script on its side. The train-looking contraption lugs carts of people around the city, who laugh and sing along to Christmas music.
At times like these, I think of my family and friends back at home. Objects and Italian products remind me of all of the people I’ll be seeing soon, people I’ve grown to miss eagerly. I think of the gifts I’ll return with: an ornament for a friend, a ceramic dish for another, coffee beans, olive oil, and so on.
The most important gift I’ve bought in Siena has been wine for my parents; local Tuscan wine was the only thing they asked me to bring back from Italy. The logistics were complicated: I knew I couldn’t fit wine in my checked bag without exceeding my airline’s weight limit, and restrictions prevented me from stowing even a single bottle in my carry-on. I did a little research, and instead found a wine shop in Siena that can handle international shipping for its customers, called Cantina del Brunello. The cashier was knowledgeable about the nuances of local bottles, and helped me pick out a Chianti Classico and a Rosso di Montalcino. I have a feeling I’ll be coming home before the wines even arrive, but hopefully we’ll have them in time for Christmas.
Like most cities around this time of year, Siena also hosts a Christmas market. On the first weekend of December, the Piazza del Campo fills to the brim with tented vendors selling food and novelties. This isn’t like your typical Germanic Christmas market, however. The food is as quintessentially Italian as it could possibly be: focaccia, biscotti, panettone, prosciutto, cannolis (their insistence on playing Michael Buble’s rendition of Holly Jolly Christmas over and over was lost on me, however; do Italians actually like Michael Buble, let alone that specific song?) As I always do, I sniffed out the mulled wine after only a minute of being there, which Italians call vin brulee. My friend and I sipped at the warm drinks as we wandered around the market looking at homemade Christmas ornaments and cutting boards. We contemplated the implacable familiarity of everything, the market itself somehow seeming of a memory beneath the foreign facade.
It’s strangely beautiful to witness Christmas here: It is different and yet altogether the same. You listen to Christmas music, enjoy seasonal foods, and think of the people you love most. People walk around with their children and their partners, savoring what only comes once a year. I can’t help but to miss my own family, and feel reminded of roaming around Christmas tree farms with them on Long Island, where the scent of Fraser Firs fill your chest and cold air burns your cheeks.
With the coming months, I know I will grow to miss Italy as desperately as I miss Long Island. But for now, I’m ready to be home.
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My name is Olivia Bozuhoski, and I am a Boston-based Arts Administration student. I love painting, reading, journaling, hiking, wine, and learning about art history. I am thrilled to be in Italy this semester, and even more thrilled to be sharing the experience with students like myself.