As we celebrate this Anno Dantesco (Year of Dante), I’m reminded of a special pleasure that the poet shared with his countrymen: a passion for the local bread. In his epic Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri, banished from Florence for political reasons, bemoaned as one of the anguishes of exile “the saltiness of other people’s bread.” His beloved hometown’s unsalted bread or pane (pronounced pah-nay) soaks up the flavors of sauces, stews and soups. In a similar way, the Florentine dialect, the basis of modern Italian, soaked up the richness of Dante’s lush language.
It was dislike at first sight. Everything about Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) put me off. As artists traditionally portrayed him, the medieval poet seemed a ferocious grump with a big beak, jutted chin, petulant sneer, and hooded eyes. Although writers like William Blake learned Italian just to read Dante, I resisted. His Divine Comedy seemed too daunting, too distant, too terribly fourteenth-century.
Long after many Americans have taken down their Christmas trees and packed away the decorations, Italians continue to celebrate. The final feast is l’Epifania (Epiphany), on January 6, which commemorates the arrival of i re magi, the three kings who followed the bright Christmas star to bring gifts for Baby Jesus.
“Anno nuovo, vita nuova!” This Italian saying literally means “new year, new life,” but it also translates as “Let’s have a fresh start!”—the perfect greeting for the dawn of 2021!
This year we all are celebrating Christmas in different ways, but my best wishes to you remain the same: Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo!
“Natale con i tuoi; Pasqua con chi vuoi,” Italians say. “Christmas with your family; Easter with whomever you want.” An Italian Christmas centers on casa (home) and stare insieme in famiglia (being together as a family). Even at a distance the sights and sounds of Christmas Italy bring joy.