Let’s Talk About… An Italian Christmas Celebration

Photo of two Conversational Italian for Travelers books downloaded on smart phones with smiling snow man next to the books.
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Buon Natale a tutti voi!

Christmastime is a magical time in Italy. The colorful decorations and holiday lights that adorn every Italian town bring with them a feeling of celebration that inspires children and adults alike. Italians of Jewish faith celebrate Chanukah in December as well, with glowing candles that bring their own special beauty to the December evenings. Chanukah was celebrated earlier this month, and if you’d like to learn more about how Chanukah is celebrated in Italy, please visit the blog “Our Italy — Celebrating Chanukah in Italy. 

 

But what really makes the December holidays special,
both in Italy and around the world? For most, it is the gathering of family and friends. 

For 2021, my hope is that all people who celebrate the Christmas holiday (le vacanze di Natale) or another holiday of their faith this December, can gather with their loved ones. As of this writing, there is a good possibility that the new normal will continue to expand to include Christmas parties (le feste di Natale) and gatherings for Chanukah dinners, instead of online meetings where people are together, yet distant. Extended families and friends should be able to celebrate the joy of being in each others’ presence and even have the opportunity to introduce new friends to old ones during the holidays  for 2021.

This post is the 52nd in a series of Italian phrases we have been trying out in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group.  If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE.

Many “commonly used phrases” in Italian

are used during the 
Christmas  Holiday Season

See below for how this works.

As we all master these phrases, so will you. Try my method and let me know how it works. What sentences will you create with these phrases?

Please reply. I’d love to hear from you! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

The basics of the Italian language are introduced in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar  

                       found on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.

The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained at Learn Travel Italian.com.

 

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Christmas in Italy

There are several important holidays that Italians celebrate during the Christmas season (periodo di Natale), which begins on December 8th with L’Immacolata and ends on January 6th with L’Epifania. The feast of Santa Lucia on December 13th is also an important holiday in northern Italy and this saint day is celebrated with candles, special pastries, and presents for children who have been good during the year.

 

Young girl with ring of candles on her head celebrating Santa Lucia Day
Young girl celebrating Santa Lucia Day

See the table below for a list of the important celebrations that take place in Italy during the Christmas season and some common phrases that Italians use to wish each other “happy holidays.” We first encountered these phrases in our blog What I wish… for the holidays! 

L’Immacolata Feast of the Immaculate Conception: Catholic holiday that celebrates mother Mary. 
Vigilia di Natale
Natale
Christmas Eve
Christmas
Buon Natale!
Buone Feste!
Merry Christmas!
Happy Holidays!
Auguri di buon Natale! Best wishes for a merry Christmas!
Tanti Auguri! / Auguri! Best wishes!
Il biglietto di auguri Natalizi
Regalo di Natale

 

 

Christmas greeting card
Christmas gift

 

 

L’ultimo dell’anno New Year’s Eve
La notte di San Silvestro December 31st is the feast day of San Silvestro for the Catholic church.
Capodanno New Year’s Day
Buon anno nuovo!
Buon anno!
Happy New Year! (used most often)
Felice anno nuovo! Happy New Year!
L’Epifania Epiphany: Catholic holiday that celebrates when “Wise Men” visited the baby Jesus. In Italy, gifts are exchanged on this day.   Italian tradition holds that a friendly witch, La Befana, brings gifts to children on this day, although Santa Claus is also celebrated.

 

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 An Italian Holiday Party Conversation

 

When at a holiday party where Italian is spoken,
one will surely encounter the introductory phrases and  polite responses below.

Introductions:

The most common Italian introduction at a gathering is a familiar phrase — a phrase used when a person introduces one of their friends to another. For example, let’s assume Pietro and Caterina are friends. Pietro wants to introduce Caterina to another of his friends, Paolo. He will do this with the simple sentence, “Caterina, ti presento il mio amico Paolo.” Pietro uses the informal “ti” since he is already friends with Caterina, the person to whom he is speaking. 

In a more formal situation, Pietro may want to introduce someone he does not know well to one of his friends. In this case, if Pietro is addressing a woman, he will need to use “Le” (“polite you” indirect object pronoun). To stay in the polite mode of conversation, Pietro will likely introduce one guest to another using their last names with a polite title, such as il Signor (Mr.), la Signora (Mrs.), or la Signorina (Miss).

Keep in mind that in English we do not use the same sentence structure as in Italian, so the English translation of these phrases will not follow the Italian word for word. We may start out with “Let me” or “I would like to” and then add “introduce you to…” Also, in an informal situation, English speakers in America tend to omit the “Let me introduce you to” altogether! Instead, an English speaker might just say something like, “Kathy, meet my friend Paul.”

Several options to use when making an introduction are listed below. Remember to use the direct article before the title for a formal introduction!

Caterina, ti presento il mio amico Paolo.

Kathy, let me introduce you to my friend Paul.
Kathy, meet my friend Paul.

 

Signor Rossi, Le presento il Signor Manzini.

Mr. Rossi, let me introduce you to Mr. Manzini.

Signora Rossi, Le presento il Signor Manzini.

Mrs. Rossi, let me introduce you to Mr. Manzini.

Signorina Rossi, Le presento il Signor Manzini.

Miss Rossi, I would like to introduce you to Mr. Manzini.

 

Responses:

At first glance at the table below, the responses to an Italian introduction may seem a bit complicated, because they have several variations. The most important key to understanding which of these variations to choose is the formality of the situation. 

In the initial phrases in this table, “Piacere di conoscerla and “Piacere di conoscerti, the difference between the two phrases will depend on whether one is speaking in the polite (pol.) or the familiar (fam.). The polite phrases are given first in our example list, as it is the norm in Italy to use the polite form with a new acquaintance. The familiar form of this phrase is often be used between younger people, who tend to be less formal, and may also be appropriate among older adults of the same age or social status. If you need a refresher on when to use polite and formal Italian phrases, please refer to our blog Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! – Getting from polite to familiar with “Dare del tu.”

The other reason there are so many variations to learn when introductions are made is the Italian use of masculine and feminine nouns and adjectives.  Every Italian student learns early on that nouns and adjectives must agree in gender and number.*  At first, it may not be obvious that one is using an adjective at the beginning of the sentence, Lieto(a) di conoscerla/ti,” since these phrases are used so often in Italy that the subject and verb of the sentence, “I am…” have been left out! The full sentence, “I am delighted to meet you,” though, makes it clear that the verb essere (to be) is in use, and of course the ending for the adjective lieto(a) for delighted must reflect back to the gender of the speaker to make sense. 

The easiest thing for the Italian student to do, of course, is to pick out the phrase that corresponds to their own situation and memorize the endings. But these phrases provide a good opportunity to learn how to change Italian endings quickly and easily and can provide a pattern for more complicated sentences. For the examples below, the nouns, adverbs, and prepositions are black, the verbs are green, the polite/familiar pronouns red, masculine adjectives blue, and feminine adjectives brown.

Piacere di conoscerla.
Piacere di conoscerti.

Pleased to meet you (pol.).
Please to meet you (fam.).

Piacere mio.

The pleasure is mine.

Lieto di conoscerla.
Lieta di conoscerla.
Lieto di conoscerti.
Lieta di conoscerti.

Delighted (masc. speaker) to meet you (pol.).
Delighted (fem. speaker) to meet you (pol.).
Delighted (masc. speaker) to meet you (fam.).
Delighted (fem. speaker) to meet you (fam.).

Molto lieto!
Molto leita!

Delighted! (masc. speaker)
Delighted! (fem. speaker)

Sono molto contento di vederla.
Sono molto contenta di vederla.
Sono molto contento di vederti.
Sono molto contenta di vederti.

(I) am very happy (masc. speaker) to see you (pol.).
(I) am very happy (fem. speaker) to see you (pol.).
(I) am very happy (masc. speaker) to see you (fam.).
(I) am very happy (fem. speaker) to see you (pol.).

Sono felice di riverderla.
Sono felice di rivederti.

(I) am happy to see you (pol.) again.
(I) am happy to see you (fam.) again.

*Italian nouns are assigned a gender, either masculine or feminine. Italian adjectives, which modify nouns, will change their endings to match the noun modified. In general, Italian nouns will end in -o if masculine and -a if feminine. A noun that ends in -e can be either masculine or feminine. There are, of course, many exceptions to these rules!

 

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Below is an excerpt from the Conversational Italian for Travelers story found on the website www.learntravelitalian.com.  This short dialogue will allow us to put together all we have discussed about what to say when introducing and meeting others at an Italian holiday party. In this dialogue, Pietro introduces his cousin Caterina to his friends Luigi and Paolo. This simple conversation uses phrases that are repeated over and over again at Italian gatherings of every type.

At the end of the dialogue printed here is a common transition phrase that takes Caterina into the familiar form with Pietro’s friends, “Diamoci del tu, per favore!” We have discussed this phrase and others used to make the transition from a polite to a formal situation in a previous blog, “Getting from Polite to Familiar in Italian with ‘Dare del tu!'”  With this simple line, a friendly conversation can truly begin! To listen to the remainder this conversation in its entirety, just click on the link It’s a Party! 

 

Pietro:

Caterina, ti presento il mio amico Paolo.

 

Kathy, (I) introduce to you (fam.) my friend Paul.

   

Caterina:

Piacere di conoscerla.

 

(It is a) pleasure to meet you (fam.).

 

(Caterina uses the polite form for a person she has just met,
even though Paolo is Pietro’s friend.)

   

Pietro:

E questo è il mio amico Luigi.

 

And this is my friend Louis.

   

Caterina:

Piacere.

 

(It is) a pleasure.

 

 

Luigi:

Piacere mio. Io sono professore dell’italiano, come Pietro.

 

Paolo è un medico.

 

(The) pleasure is mine. I am (an) Italian professor, like Peter.

 

Paul is a physician.

 

 

Caterina:

Molto interessante.

 

Very interesting.

   

Paolo:

Io sono di Novara, una città vicino a Milano.

 

Diamoci del tu, per favore!

 

I am from Novara, a town near to Milan.

 

Let’s use the familiar form of you with each other, please!

 

(Paolo officially asks if he can use the familiar,
or “tu” form with Caterina.)

 

 

Caterina:

Va bene. Volentieri!

 

O.K. Gladly!

Warm wishes for a Merry Christmas
and a Happy New Year
filled with treasured time
together with family and friends!

Auguri a tutti voi!

Photo of two Conversational Italian for Travelers books downloaded on smart phones with smiling snow man next to the books.
Make it a “Conversational Italian” Christmas! “Just the Phrases” makes a great stocking stuffer. Or Just download the Conversational Italian for Travelers books on your phone for easy reference anywhere you go! Download at www.learntravelitalian.com. Purchase books at Amazon.com

“Tu Scendi dalle Stelle” — A Special Italian Christmas Carol

Close up of the statues in the Trevi fountain at night with water glistening
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Buon Natale a tutti voi!

Visiting Italy during Christmastime has been on my bucket list for many years.  I always travel to Italy during the spring or summer. And yet, from the photos I’ve seen, Italy is just as magical — or maybe even more so — during the Christmas season, when the towns sparkle with lights radiating from the shops and churches that are decked out in their special holiday displays. 

This year, visiting Italy during Christmastime will have to wait. But I would like to share an Italian Christmas carol that makes me feel close to the people in this special country. This Christmas carol is called “Tu Scendi dalle Stelle.” Although not well-known in America, it is said to be the most well-loved Christmas carol in Italy.

The music and lyrics for “Tu Scendi dalle Stelle” were written in 1732, by Saint Alphonsus Liguori, who was a Neapolitan priest. Liguori originally gave the song the title, “Little song to Child Jesus,” but the song has since become known by its first line, “From Starry Skies Descending,” or in modern English, “You Came Down from the Stars.”

Liguori most likely took inspiration for this Christmas carol from a Neapolitan song called “Quanno Nascette Ninno” (“When the child was born”) which is also called “Canzone d’i Zampognari” (“The Carol of the Bagpipers”).

I hope you enjoy reading the first two stanzas of the lyrics to this song. The traditional translation uses antiquated English. There are many versions recorded on You Tube. If you like, click on the link for my favorite, from the You Tube channel lorpre87.

“Tu Scendi dalle Stelle” with English Translation

  

Tu scendi dalle stelle

From starry skies descending,

O Re del Cielo

Thou comest, glorious King,

e vieni in una grotto

A manger low Thy bed,

al freddo e al gelo.

In winter’s icy sting.

O Bambino mio Divino

O my dearest Child most holy,

Io ti vedo qui a tremar,

Shudd’ring, trembling in the cold

O Dio Beato Great God,

Thou lovest me!

Ahi, quanto ti costò

What suff’ring Thou didst bear,

l’avermi amato!

That I near Thee might be!

   

A te, che sei del mondo

Thou art the world’s Creator,

il Creatore,

God’s own and true Word,

mancano panni e fuoco;

Yet here no robe, no fire

O mio Signore!

For Thee, Divine Lord.

Caro eletto Pargoletto,

Dearest, fairest, sweetest Infant

Quanto questa povertà

Dire this state of poverty

più mi innamora!

The more I care for Thee,

Giacché ti fece amor

Since Thou, O Love Divine

povero ancora!

Will’st now so poor to be.

Buon Natale a tutti voi!

Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! – Benvenuto Natale!

Burano in Venice, Italy and Everyday Italian phrases

Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

Do you want to speak Italian more easily and confidently by the end of 2019? Well, it is the end of the year, and time for the fall and winter celebrations. Why not celebrate how much Italian you’ve learned this holiday season?

As I’ve said before, I believe that “commonly used phrases” are the key for how we can all build fluency in any language in a short time.

If we learn how to incorporate the “commonly used phrases”  that we say when attending a holiday gathering, starting, of course with the Italian interjection “Benvenuto(a,i,e)!” or “Welcome!” we will be on our way to conversing in Italian with family and friends for the holidays, just as we do in our native language! 

Of course, we also need to learn the variations of  benvenuto in order to greet each individual or group correctly, just as we have previously how to address those we are talking to with the correct masculine and feminine endings.

And, by remembering common Italian phrases for a holiday gathering, you will automatically have committed to memory the rules for Italian interjections!

This post is the 28th in a series of Italian phrases we have been trying out in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group.  If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE

Many “commonly used phrases” at Italian gatherings

start with the interjection “Benvenuto!”

See below for how this works and for some “Important Phrases”
to use at YOUR next Italian holiday party!

As we all master these phrases, so will you. Try my method and let me know how it works. What sentences will you create with these phrases?

Please reply. I’d love to hear from you! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

The basics of the Italian language are introduced in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar  

                       found on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.

The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained at Learn Travel Italian.com.

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How to Use Benvenuto!

and Italian Holiday Party

Conversation

“Benvenuto!”* and its variations (Benvenuti! Benvenuta! and Benvenute!) are frequently used Italian interjections that all mean “Welcome!” Guests (gli ospiti) to an Italian household can expect to hear these words as a warm greeting before crossing the threshold into the home (casa) of the host or  hosts (la padrona di casa/il padrone di casa or gli ospiti).**  

Whether family, friend or acquaintance, every guest will be greeted warmly as a sign of the Italian dedication to hospitality for all. And, of course, the Italian Christmas season, which starts in early December and lasts until early January, brings with it many occasions for get-togethers with family and friends. For those interested in reading more about how the Christmas season is observed in Italy, click on the link to our previous blog Sperare (Part 2) – What I wish for the holidays…

Let’s get started learning some useful conversational expressions for Italian holiday gatherings from the very beginning — by first focusing on how to use the Italian interjection “Benvenuto!” to greet others.

There is only one rule to know regarding interjections: the ending of the interjection must agree with the gender and number of the noun (person, place or thing) that the interjection describes. Therefore, when the speaker addresses another person, the interjection must refer to the gender and number of the person or people who are being addressed. This, in turn, will determine the ending of the interjection!

Sound complicated?  Well, it is… a little bit. By remembering which form of benvenuto to use in four different situations, you will automatically have committed the rules for other Italian interjections to memory!

*Benvenuto can also be used as a noun and adjective as well, in these cases without the exclamation point, but with the same meaning of “welcome.” 

**Notice that the same Italian name is given to both guests and hosts: gli ospiti.
La padrona di casa refers to the woman of the house, or as we say in English, the hostess.
Il padrone di casa refers to the man of the house, or the host.

Interestingly, the English word hostess” means “stewardess” in Italian and has no other meaning in Italian. “L’hostess” means “the stewardess.”  

 

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How to Change Benvenuto

from Singular to Plural 

 

In general, of course:

  • A masculine Italian noun and its adjective will end in -o, and this ending will change to -i in the plural.
  • A feminine Italian noun and its adjective will ends in -a, and this ending will change to -e in the plural.
  • An Italian noun or adjective that ends in -e may be masculine or feminine, and this ending will change to -i in the plural.

If you are interested in learning more about masculine and feminine words in Italian that end in the letter -e, and how to distinguish one from the other, this You Tube Video may be of help: Italian Grammar by Stella Lucente.

 

For our interjection Benvenuto! the following rules apply:

  • The singular masculine form is benvenuto.
    The plural masculine form (for a group of males or a group of males and females) is benvenuti.
  • The singular feminine form is benvenuta.
    The plural feminine form (for a group of females) is benvenute.

 

Therefore, if greeting one male person, you would say, “Benvenuto!” If greeting a group of males or a mixed group of males and females, you would say “Benvenuti!” 

What should you say if one of your female relatives or or a female friend is at your doorway? “Benvenuta!” of course.  And if she brings her female friends or mother, daughter, or female cousin?  Say, Benvenute!”

 

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Changing  the Italian Interjections

Bravo! and Beato! 

 

As a visit to the symphony, ballet, or opera is often a part of the Christmas holiday season in Italy and America, let’s apply what we’ve just learned about the interjection “Benvenuto!” to the frequently used interjection “Bravo!” 

If we follow the rules in the last section for masculine and feminine endings, we should cheer “Bravo!” when one talented male Italian singer steps in front of the stage curtain for applause. And we do hear this word “Bravo!” frequently in America for a performance well done. But, in proper Italian, we should also be cheering “Brava!” for the female diva of the performance, and “Bravi!” for the entire fabulous ensemble.

In general, any person, male or female, who is “good” at something, or has done “a good job” is a “brava persona.”  In this case, the noun persona is feminine and so the adjective that modifies this noun must be feminine as well!

One more example of a commonly used interjection is “Lucky you!”  Has your brother received an unexpected holiday gift from a friend?  If so, and if you would like to express your happiness for him, you could say,“Beato te!”  Your sister? “Beata te!” An acquaintance? Either “Beato Lei!” for a male acquaintance or “Beata Lei!” for a female acquaintance, of course!

If your parents were finally able to retire and plan their dream vacation to Italy, you might comment, “Beati voi!” for “How lucky you all are!  And if your sisters are able to take a vacation together after an unexpected windfall — Beate voi!”

The table below summarizes these three common Italian interjections.  There are many more. How many more can you think of?

Benvenuto! Welcome! (to a male)
Benvenuti! Welcome!
(to a group of males
or a group of males+females)
Benvenuta! Welcome! (to a female)
Benvenute! Welcome! (to a group of females)
Bravo! Well done! (to a male)
Bravi! Well done! (to a group of males
or a group of males+females)
Brava! Well done! (to a female)
Brave! Well done!  (to a group of females)
Beato te! Lucky you!
(to male) (familiar singular you)
Beato Lei! Lucky you!
(to male) (polite singular you)
Beati voi! Lucky you!  (to a group of males
or a group of males+females)
(polite plural you)
Beata te! Lucky you!
(to female) (familiar singular you)
Beata Lei! Lucky you!
(to female) (polite singular you)
Beate voi! Lucky you! (to a group of  females)
(polite plural you)

 

Benvenuto Natale!

Now that we understand how Italian endings change for Italian interjections — that is, that the endings must agree with the gender and number of the person or people who are being addressed — we can continue with some useful phrases for conversation at a holiday party.

In the following table:

  • Some of the phrases will have nouns or adjectives with endings that change depending on whom is speaking or on whom is being addressed.
  • Verb endings will change, as usual, with the choice of  polite or familiar address, and abbreviations pol. and fam. will be given in each case.
  • Command verb forms are often used, as denoted.
  • Subject pronouns will also change, of course, and when attached to the infinitive form of the verb are given in red.
  • When Italian subject pronouns are not given, but must be used in the English translation, they are written with parenthesis in English.

The phrases below have been reproduced from Conversational Italian for Travelers pocket travel book,Just the Important Phrases.” You can use these phrases as a start, and then create your own!

 

Upon entering someone’s home as a guest,  you may hear these phrases and respond accordingly:

Benvenuto!(a)(i,e) Welcome! (to male/female, singular and plural)
Entri!
Entra!
Come in! (pol./fam. command verb)
Si accomodi.
Accomodati!
Make yourself comfortable. (pol./fam. command verb)
Da questa parte, prego. This way, please.
Si sieda.
Siediti!
Sit down. (pol./fam. command verb)
Piacere di conoscerla.
Piacere di conoscerti.
Pleased to meet you. (pol./fam.)
Piacere mio. The pleasure is mine.
Lieto(a) di conoscerla.
Lieto(a) di conoscerti.
Delighted (masc./fem. speaker) to meet you (pol./fam.)
Molto lieto(a)! Delighted! (masc./fem. speaker)
Sono molto contento(a) di vederla.
Sono molto contento(a) di vederti.
(I) am very happy (masc./fem.) to see you. (pol./fam.)
Sono felice di riverderla.
Sono felice di rivederti.
(I) am happy to see you (pol./fam.) again.

 

Some useful phrases of response during a conversation at a party:

Non mi dica! You (pol.) don’t say! 
(lit. You are not telling me!)
Sono contento(a) per lei.
Sono molto contento
(a) per te.
(I) am happy (masc./fem. speaker) for you .(pol./fam.)
Mi piace molto!
Mi piace tanto!
I love it!/ I like it a lot!
(lit. It is very pleasing to me!)
Mi piace un sacco. I love it! (idiomatic expression)
(lit. It is pleasing to me a sac full.)

 

Upon leaving someone’s home after a gathering, you may express the need to leave and your thanks for a lovely evening using these phrases:

Devo andare via ora. (I) must leave now.
È stato un piacere. (It) has been a pleasure.
È stato divertente. (It) has been enjoyable/fun/a blast/amusing/funny.
Ti sei divertito(a)? (Did) you (fam.) enjoy yourself? (masc./fem.)
Mi sono proprio divertito(a). (I) really enjoyed myself. (masc./fem. speaker).
(I had a great time.)
Grazie di tutto. Thank you for everything.
Grazie per la Sua ospitalità.
Grazie per la tua ospitalità.
Thank you for your (pol./fam.) hospitality.
Grazie per una bella serata. Thank you for a nice/beautiful evening.
La ringrazio.
Ti ringrazio.
(I) thank you. (pol./fam.)

 

There are, of course, many more phrases that are useful to keep in mind for Italian conversations at a get-together or holiday party. 

If you are interested in learning more phrases, and keeping them handy in a pocket or purse for easy reference, consider purchasing Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases,” with its beautiful new cover.

Our book makes a great stocking stuffer for the Italophile you know!

Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases,” is a stand-alone book with “all the phrases you need to know” to enjoy your trip to Italy and with tips on how to create your own!

 

Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases
Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases (with Restaurant Vocabulary and Idiomatic Expressions) is YOUR traveling companion in Italy! All the Italian phrases you need to know to enjoy your trip to Italy are right here and fit right into your pocket or purse.

Remember how to use the interjection Benvenuto! and I guarantee you will be able to easily add many more interjections to your daily Italian conversations!

   Available on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com

 

Cuccidati – My Family’s Christmas Cookie

Sicilian Christmas Cookie Cuccidati

Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

Last December, I attended an event called La Festa dei Cuccidati for lovers of the Sicilian Christmas cookies called “cuccidati.”   It was organized by Salvatore Sciacca, director of the Chicagoland Italian American Professionals,

The event took place at Casa Italia in Stone Park,  the cultural center and central meeting place for Italian-Americans in the Chicagoland area for many decades.  There was a wonderful turnout that day for this event, and there were many, many varieties of cuccidati, all beautifully presented and available to taste.

We had dozens and dozens of cuccidati to sample – all donated for benefit of Casa Italia – from local bakeries and also from individual families.  The family recipes had, of course, been handed down through the generations, and many recipes were proudly displayed along with their cookies. There were more than 20  different varieties!  There was a contest for the best bakery cookie and also the best homemade cookie.  There was a demonstration as well.

All this is to say that I was really looking forward to this event, and it did not disappoint in the number and variety of cuccidati available.  Making this cookie with my mother, aunts, and now my children, has always been a highlight of the Christmas season for me.  I was looking forward to sharing this tradition with members of the community that I have come to know in Chicagoland, and so excited that they, too, shared special memories of the same Christmas treats that I loved.

Although, a funny thing happened.  I found out that the cookies that my family makes and calls “cuccidati,” are not exactly what were made that day.  In fact, all of the varieties that day used a fig filling, while my family recipe uses a combination of raisins, almonds, and citrus.  So, I did a bit of research, and although I have not found the exact recipe for my family’s cookie online, I have found many similar recipes.  I have an idea that it is just one of many similar “types” of Sicilian Christmas cookies that have developed over the years.

Visit the recent Learn Italian!blog post from December 1, 2017, to read about my family’s cuccidati method if you like.  An excerpt is below.

I’d love to hear from anyone who makes a cookie with similar shapes or a similar filling!  And, whatever your family traditions this holiday season, I wish everyone, ” Auguri di buone feste natalizie!”

 

Cuccidati: Traditional Sicilian Christmas Cookies 

Italian Christmas traditions are unique to each region of the Italy and have been lovingly handed down within families through the generations. Cuccidati – a version of Christmas cookie that probably originated after the Arabs introduced oranges and almonds to Sicily centuries ago – play an important part in the Christmas celebration in Sicily even today.

All Sicilian cuccidati, or any Italian cookie for that matter, are unlike what Americans think of when they think of cookies. Most Italian cookies are made from dough that cooks up drier than American cookies and there is much more variation in the presentation.  Sicilian cookies come in a multitude of different shapes and sizes and fruit fillings are often enclosed in the cookies as a special treat.

The recipe given below is for a Sicilian Christmas cookie—my family calls them “cuccidati,” although they are not identical to most of the cookies found online under this name.  The cookies in this recipe start out as the “typical” cuccidati: one long “tube” of sweet, Italian pie-crust-like dough, which contains a dried fruit and nut center. (No figs in our version, by the way.) But, instead of then cutting the tube into bite-sized pieces that are finished with icing, my family cuts larger pieces, which are then formed into different shapes, and finishes the cuccidati with a sprinkle of powdered sugar.  Whatever the name, this is just one version out of many dried, fruit-filed cookies still made in Sicilian bakeries today to celebrate the Christmas season.

When I was a child, my family always gathered the weekend before Christmas to share our creativity while we formed our cuccidati into wreaths, ribbons, or candy cane-like forms.  They could be completely covered in dough, which would allow for a creative, fringe-like covering, or left open.  The sides could be pinched for decoration if like, similar to how Americans form a pie crust along the rim of their pies. If you would like to see how the various shapes of these cookies are made, visit the Stella Lucente Italian Pinterest site.

The ingredients for the cuccidati filling are considered easy to come by today, but remember that dried fruit, including raisins and oranges and spices like cinnamon were considered special when the cookies originated.  These filling ingredients were only found only in well-off households. Since the filling ingredients are difficult to chop and mix together, in some Sicilian towns “back in the day,” people would bring their filling to the butcher to mix together for them in his meat grinder, which had been newly cleaned for the season for this purpose.

Despite the few ingredients in traditional cuccidati, and the difficulty of making the filling with them, the dried fruit has a rich sweetness, the roasted almonds a robust flavor, and the cinnamon, orange, and citron add a complexity of flavor that goes beyond its simple ingredients. Try our recipe this Christmas season for a taste of Sicilian tradition!
—Kathryn Occhipinti

Click here for the recipe and method to make cuccidati.

Visit www.learntravelitalian.com for more of my Italian and Italian-American recipes, cultural notes and  advanced Italian language blog posts updated monthly. Click on the link “our blog” in the upper right hand corner to reach blog.Learn Travel Italian.com.