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.
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?
The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained atLearn Travel Italian.com.
How to Use Benvenuto!
and Italian Holiday Party
“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 hostor 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.”
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 -emay 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!”
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?
Welcome! (to a male)
(to a group of males or a group of males+females)
Welcome!(to a female)
Welcome! (to a group of females)
Well done! (to a male)
Well done! (to a group of males or a group of males+females)
Well done! (to a female)
Well done! (to a group of females)
(to male) (familiar singular you)
(to male) (polite singular you)
Lucky you! (to a group of males or a group of males+females)
(polite plural you)
(to female) (familiar singular you)
(to female) (polite singular you)
Lucky you! (to a group of females)
(polite plural you)
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 Travelerspocket 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:
Welcome!(to male/female, singular and plural)
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.)
The pleasure is mine.
Lieto(a) di conoscerla. Lieto(a) di conoscerti.
Delighted (masc./fem. speaker) to meet you(pol./fam.)
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!
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!
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!”
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.