The tradition in Italy is Santa Clause arrives at mezzanotte (midnight) of Christmas Eve to bring the gifts. Christmas Day is a day to relax and have another large meal. (More food!) No TV, no calcio (Italian soccer), and no football (American-style) is watched on the 25th. Fat old Santa, I thought, would never fit down the chimney because the flue is pretty narrow and Santa's bacino (pelvis) is a bit wide. It turns out, Santa rang the doorbell at right about midnight. Babbo Natale arrived with armfuls of gifts. The little girl is rather furba (clever, smart, sharp), and she immediately called Babbo Natale on it. "E' babbo!" (It's Dad!) "It's Dad's face, Dad's shoes!" And then she commented, "Your belt is made of paper. It's not a real belt."
I do not know if these kids believe in Santa or have already learned how to play the game, but all those doubts about Babbo Natale were soon replaced with the excitement of the gifts. Just like everywhere, the wrappings and ribbons did not last long while the children clawed to get at the hidden treasures.
Meanwhile, the evening proceeded. Good food was prepared and eaten. Lots of Italian was spoken. I tried to keep up. I even tried to joke in Italian. Everyone said my Italian is very good. I believed none of them until Andrea, the 9-year-old, piped in and said, "E' vero" (It's true). For me, the ultimate compliment is for a child to tell me my Italian is excellent. Finally, I believe and accept that my Italian just might be better than I think. I value kids' opinions (especially in this regard) because kids are usually straight up. I have often wondered what do children not necessarily old enough to "understand" that Italian is my second language think when they encounter someone like me. It was the way Andrea piped up with "E' vero" that convinced me. It was as if he knew better than anyone else, and his compliment was not patronizing like often the adults who say I speak well might be. My Christmas present.
After the festivities -- the food, the conversations, the smiles, and the gifts -- I descended the 89 steps back to the street with a belly overstuffed from too much indulgence, where, to my surprise, I saw many people out on the street with perhaps no real purpose but to amble about with everyone else. And then it hit me. Inside or outside, everyone was with someone...even if they were with everyone. During my short walk home, I overheard many kids speaking with their parents about Babbo Natale and observed the knowing smiles of their parents as they replied. A few winks here and there, and I finally understood. English is my mother tongue; Italian, my adopted language. But universal is people. Even if we do not speak the other person's language well or at all, we still (can) communicate.
The kids taught me that. Christmas suddenly took on a new meaning. A fun evening to see it through the eyes of young children and their parents. And what presents I received!