When you’re an Expat in Rome, it can be easy to feel homesick this time of year. Maybe you’re contemplating spending Christmas far from loved ones, or you are going to see family and friends for the holidays, but you’re struggling to get through the last few weeks without them. The build-up to festivities can be part of the fun, so if you’re stationed in Italy right now you might be missing certain traditions that put you in the Christmas mood. Fear not, the Testaccina guide to feeling festive in Rome is here.
Rome’s festive lights went on at the weekend, with the big switch-on taking place on Friday December 6th. That’s right, just 19 days before Christmas. If you’re used to an Anglo-Saxon approach, you might have been able to enjoy Jedward turning on your local lights at some point in October or someone from the Only Way is Essex mumbling over a microphone in your nearest shopping precinct. Not to mention all the department stores being populated with Christmas trees from before Bonfire Night. This is Rome, peoples. Even the timing of the Christmas lights is impeccable and the end result is elegant and classy.
2. Enjoy Italian food traditions
Being stuck in Italy over Christmas isn’t the worse prospect in the world, is it? Food culture is at the top of the tree 364 days of the year and you can bet that on the big day Italy won’t disappoint either. If you’re with Italian in-laws, bring your party hat in the smug knowledge that you are going to eat the sort of portions that would suit a small polar bear and are unlikely to run out of alcohol as you will probably be the biggest day-time drinker at the table. Hell, it’s the one time of the year when you can slot in a bit of day-time drinking and no-one seems to notice.
3. Keep an eye on Rome’s festive offerings
Have kids or elderly folk to entertain? Take them to see the impressive nativity extravaganza in Saint Peter’s Square, the dinky display at Sant’Eustachio or the semi-permanent exhibition in Piazza del Popolo. If you’re a real presepi fan, you could even squeeze in a weekend trip to Napoli to visit the famous Via San Gregorio Armeno where many of the nativity figures, stables and settings are still made by hand. Head for an ice-rink – there’s one outside Castel Sant Angelo and another at the annual Christmas fest at the Auditorium Parco della Musica. Or buy some chestnuts from a street vendor and get romantic with your squeeze under the lavish, Louis Vuitton-sponsored tree in Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina (just steer her away from the equally lavish Louis Vuitton or Bottega Veneta window displays…)
4. Embrace the idea of enjoying a truly international Christmas
Fortunately, you’re not the only Expat in Rome and there are plenty of people from different cultures trying to rustle up a home-from-home vibe… so crash the party! Wednesday 11th December marks the festival of Santa Lucia, so Rome’s Swedish community will be serving mulled wine and biscuits from 17.00 in Piazza Campitelli 7 (Assessorato all Cultura, Creatività e Promozione Artistica) and again at 19.30 in Piazza di Pietra with a procession in honour of the light-bringing saint. All, needless to say, are welcome. If you’re craving carols and mince pies, Rome’s Anglican Church, All Saints, will be holding its traditional 9 lessons and carols service on Sunday December 22nd at 6pm in the evening. Get there early for a seat.
If in doubt, do something for someone less fortunate than yourself. Keep an eye out for the blanket appeals for the homeless which are common this time of the year, often coordinated by the Caritas Diocesana di Roma, Ostello Stazione Termini “don Luigi di Liegro” in Via Marsala, 109. Make a New Year’s resolution to volunteer at one of Rome’s homeless, refugee or women’s charities (more information below) and don’t be put off by the fact that many are organised by churches – you don’t have to be religious to volunteer; all the charities listed are just looking for reliable help. Buy a coffee for someone that’s on the streets or visit an elderly neighbour. Loneliness is the real bane of Christmas for many people, and the best solution for that is friendship. Merry Christmas everyone!
Trastevere’s Community of St. Egidio is one of Rome’s best loved charities. Find out more about how you can help here:
The city of Rome has plenty of resources for the homeless, immigrants, refugees and women in difficulty. Find a centre near to you and pop in for a chat (list in Italian).
The Samaritans in Rome has recently been looking for volunteers to staff their helpline and help centre. Italian and English speakers welcome. Call the main free-phone number to find out more:
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