Forget the reindeer. On the small island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples in Italy, Babbo Natale (a.k.a. Santa) drives a motorino and sports a backpack in place of a sack. After all, these adjustments make it much easier to navigate those tiny cobblestone streets on Christmas Eve. I myself have fond memories of walking down the streets of Ischia, only to have to lean up against the wall and suck in my gut to let a car get by without running me over. I can’t even imagine how a sleigh and eight reindeer would manage. And there are other signs that we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto (or my native New Jersey for that matter). Here is a photo tour of the signs of the season you’ll come across should you walk around Ischia nowadays:
I love America. And one of the reasons I know I love America is because I’ve spent the holidays in Italy. I hated Christmas in Italy. It’s subdued and rather boring. The big holiday meal is great, of course, but when you get three hours for lunch everyday, that big holiday meal seems the same as any other day. Yes, the American version of Christmas is all about material things and glitz and I’m supposed to hate it. But I love it. I love it in spite of the materialism. I love the way we all believe in Santa and there is something magical in the air. I love the lights on all the houses, singing carolers, egg nog, and Christmas cookies. I love the holiday music and the holiday movies. It wouldn’t be Christmas without a viewing of Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer. Since I have my own little elf now, I want him to cherish American Christmas as much as I do.
Being a New Jerseyan – born and raised – I want him to feel the spirit in his home state most of all. So far, this season we have had breakfast with Santa at the Park Ridge Elks (see “AFTER” photo below), exchanged cookies with some of our cousins, baked cookies with the elf’s cousins, and decorated the house with the miniest of trees and put it far out of reach because my elf is also Mr. Destruction. He nearly pulled the heavy, metal stocking holders on his head. Those are gone, too. But we will not shout, “Bah humbug!” On the contrary, paper decorations are yet to come. And we’re planning on baking a cake in the shape of St. Nick and attending Van Saun Park’s annual train ride with Santa event. Of course, there is Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to celebrate. ‘Tis the season to enjoy New Jersey, its people, and its Christmas spirit, so get out and support local businesses and attend local events, like your neighborhood tree lighting, caroling, or dreidel spinning. Happy holidays to all and to all a good night!
Di Meglio is the author of Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press Travel, 2012).
There was no way my parents, Zio Antonio, and I (Zia Francesca) would miss 8-month-old Maria’s first Christmas. Although we can’t be with her on Dec. 25, we threw a Christmas bash like no other six days ahead of schedule at Zia Rosaria’s pad in Florida. Zio Antonio and I spent the week having Maria warm up to us – both literally and figuratively — as we forced her and her parents to tour Disney World in the freezing temperatures (I mean even the Disney topiaries were covered in white blankets).
We learned a few things on this trip, among them that Maria looks so cute you could just eat her up whenever she wears any fuzzy outfits that have ears to make her look like a bunny and that she has quite a sense of humor, not to mention a huge appetite. There is also no question that she is related to us. Her belly tells the whole story. The kid can eat, and even when she shouldn’t eat, she does. The other day she ate a chunk of garlic off the floor where her papa’ had been cooking, and she didn’t even wince. But her mother confirms that she was stinky for pretty much the entire day. If she had cleaned the floor with a little bleach after the garlic, she might have smelled like her older zii.
Maria’s role models? Bella and Shilo, the family dogs, which might be why she thinks it’s natural to eat off the floor, sleep on a big cushion or even a tile in the middle of Zia Rosaria’s living room, and she begs for scraps from the table. Although I gest, she does have one helluva time getting into mischief with the dogs. They are her best friends for now, and she is especially cute with Shilo, who lets her pull his tail, jump on him, and chew toys and books with him.
The only way Maria could love them more is if they could feed her. That’s what she likes about all of us, I think. We overindulged her desire to eat more and more tiny morsels of apples, peaches, potatoes, pancakes, chicken, waffles, and yogurt. As a result, the child who never spits up or vomits threw up on us twice. All our fault! I’m actually honored she threw up on me.
Highlights of our time with Maria include Nonno Pasquale demanding that Tigger, who Maria followed all over the room with her eyes while at breakfast at 1900 Park Fare in Disney’s Grand Floridian, come to say hello to us and take a picture immediately, Maria and Donald Duck having matching sombreros in EPCOT’s Mexico pavillion, and the moments she shared with Babbo Natale (Santa Claus), who might have secretly been her Nonno Pasquale, and his reindeer, who might have been Nonna Regina. My personal best memory, however, was Maria curling up under my arm and falling asleep. So sweet!
To enjoy more photos of Nonno Pasquale as Babbo Natale and Maria with all the characters (and some of the rest of us, too), then check out “Maria’s 1st Christmas” photo album. Buon Natale a tutti!