At home, the delights of the season, for me, are illuminated through various features: the Liturgy of the Word, which sparks reflection in anticipation for Christ's coming and invites me to consider more deeply the Incarnation; the spirit of festiveness that surrounds, as seen in the lights that line the streets, the trees that brighten the town, and the decorations in shop windows; the preparatory baking fests which fill the house with delicious aromas, such as cinnamon and citrus; and especially, the spirit of giving and joy that fills the time and space of the Advent and Christmas seasons.
I felt the true essence in a unique way at the Angelicum. Being in this setting that is centered around Our Lord, one's heart is drawn naturally to the joy of the infant Christ and the beloved story of the Holy Family. And there, in the university hallway, where all pass many a time throughout the day, there is stationed the great Christmas tree and village Presepe (Nativity Scene). Coming and going, it is that scene that we encounter, inclining our hearts to the reason for the season.
And beyond that, the season was felt in conversations, as most dialogues included discussion about where each would be for the holidays. Some were to travel back to their homeland, distant or local, and others were planning to stay in Rome. This talk highlighted a feature of the holidays, that I see now, I surely took for granted, and that is the company of family. The more conversations I shared regarding Christmas travels and being home, the more it became clear the authentic joy, unlike any other, that which comes from the comfort of home and the presence of those you love.
As we approached the final days before the holiday break, I could see the excitement in the eyes of my peers, in knowing that in just a few days they would be in the embrace of parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and all those they love. Perhaps this prompted a bit of sadness in my own heart. More lastingly, however, it has prompted a reflection on the love of family, one that I can say required this experience of living in a far-off land.
So, held tenderly in my heart remains this beautiful reflection. Meanwhile, in a less hidden fashion, is the love and embrace of my local family and friends, which has carried me into the celebration of the Great Nativity. While others were sharing their anxiousness to return to the familiarity of their hometowns, far from the quirks and annoyances of Italian life, I shared, with a competing level of joyful anticipation, my arrangements to share Christmas with my cousins.
Through the various things in which I am involved, I have been serenaded by the festive song of the holidays. In my teaching, I included in the lessons Christmas activities like: writing letters to Santa, making Christmas cards, singing Christmas carols, and watching Christmas films.
I embraced the seasonal shopping, in a less overwhelming manner this year, allowing me the excitement of picking out small gifts for my family here.
My baking item for this year was the simple, and very American cookie, "snickerdoodles". I selected these as they include ingredients that can be found quite easily at the Italian supermarket and the little effort in preparation produces many biscottini. And of course, baking these brought into my new home the familiarity of home in the States. It was fun to share these American holiday treats with my peers at school and friends and family here in town.
This hour of festival was further embodied in evening gatherings, such as taking an apperitivo with colleagues, gathering with friends in the casualness of someone's home, and enjoying dinner out.
One of the special Advent events that I attended was put on by the English seminarians, at the English College here in Rome. I, along with others from school, were given an invitation from peers at the Angelicum. The evening included a liturgical portion with readings and Latin songs from the choir. After the first part, we all went upstairs for some mulled wine and sweets. Then, we gathered in the common room for the comedic and quite witty Advent Show. The talented men put together a myriad of short skits which managed to highlight in an absolutely amusing fashion the nuances of Anglo culture, including the Scots vs. English conflict (demonstrated in particular for the Scottish seminarians in the audience) and the diversity of cross-cultural perspectives on the priesthood. One of the best skits portrayed seminarians from the USA, Italy, France and England. The scene was set as a class on practical learning for the priesthood. The question that each had to answer was how to respond to the scenario when a beautiful young female parishioner confesses her love for the priest and testifies to him being "the one". You can imagine the different ways each seminarian responded. The final response was from the American, who shared that they learned this well through a drill at the NAC (North American College). He proceeded to demonstrate the technique they acquired, and then cued the song, "Can't Touch This" by MC Hammer.
That skit was by far my favorite.
And as a topper to the festive occasions, I even managed to share an American Christmas film with an Italian friend. I shared, none other than the famous, Elf. My friend knows English quite well, but there was of course the necessary explanation of a few terms of the Christmas jargon. He had a good laugh at the universally hilarious movie.