It’s Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Christmas

November 13, 2008

torroneYesterday evening, after dinner, I was peeling an orange and I thought “wow – it smells like Christmas.”  This is strange for at least three reasons, all of which point towards me slowly, but surely, becoming an Italian.  The first reason that it is strange is that after dinner I was eating an orange.  Period.  Growing up, eating fruit after finishing a meal was not something we did, unless we were at my Great Aunt Jennie’s house, and then it was understood as something Italians did (she is a feisty now almost 95 year old Sicilian).  I always tried to get away from the table by eating just one grape as my fruit quota.  But since I’ve lived with my Italian husband, and his family, fruit after a meal is almost a must, and I’ve adapted.

The second reason that this orange peeling / Christmas thinking episode was weird is because oranges have nothing to do with my vision or experience of Christmas.   I’ve spent the last two Christmases with M. and his family and they are generally dominated by food.  And three things in particular: nuts, especially walnuts (an interesting aside, walnuts don’t have a specific name in Italian, they are just called “nuts”), these delectable nougat candy things which only show up in Italy during Christmas, and citrus fruit, especially mandarins and oranges.  Two years ago, when M. and I were living in Rome, I was in working in Washington and Brazil for about a month between the middle of November and the middle of December.  When I came home, M. had decorated our apartment for Christmas, the crowing glory of which was a bowl full of gorgeous smelling dried orange slices that he had made.  Last year, when my in-laws and sister-in-law came to spend Christmas with the three of us in London, they brought with them not only two huge baskets of nuts and the aforementioned heavenly Christmas candy things, but also a cartload of citrus fruit.

And the final reason that this is all strange is that this time of year, I shouldn’t be thinking of Christmas at all, I should be thinking of Thanksgiving.  As I mentioned in a post several weeks ago, this whole European thing of starting to prep for Christmas before Americans have even bought their turkey is alien to me.

All of this, of course, proves that I am becoming globalised.  Or at least, that I am becoming Italian, which on further reflection is probably the opposite of becoming globalised.  My traditions are no longer exclusive to the country that I was raised in, and I’m even overlooking holidays which are a major part of my cultural experience.   Next I’ll be craving cotechino for New Year’s.  I guess this is normal: over a year ago I commented on the fact that my husband was “asymptotically approaching Americanisation.”   It seems it’s taken one year longer for me to become somewhat Italian than it did for him to become somewhat American.  I could make a point about the greater “soft power” of the US than Italy here, but I’ll leave that to another post.

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4 Responses to “It’s Beginning to Smell a Lot Like Christmas”

  1. Sergio said

    Reading this post I immediately understood what was missing from my dinner: I immediately took an orange!

  2. Marcia Barbosa Serra said

    Oranges?
    In Brazil (as you probably noticed), we often have fruit for dessert, or AFTER dessert, and our Christmases are certainly nutty… But orangey? Hmmm, that smells good, I think!

  3. Kathryn said

    My mom – er, Santa – always put an orange in the foot of our stockings. I think this is a tradition from the days when citrus fruit was exotic and expensive. My brother and I thought it was boring but now I think it was a nice, quaint tradition.

  4. LMP said

    Marcia: And you count avocados as a fruit! I remember being so surprised to find pieces of avocado in a fruit salad when I first got to Brasilia…

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