A Very 2020 Holiday in Tuscany
It’s a holiday season like no other- a very 2020 holiday in Tuscany. Fortunately, even a relentless worldwide pandemic is no match for the beauty of Tuscany or the spirit of the Italian people. Life goes on, even if things are different than ever before.
During a typical year, Italians are busy celebrating Christmas for a solid month, beginning with the lighting of city centers and homes in celebration of the Immaculate Conception, which is marked on December 8th each year, and concluding with the Epiphany on January 6th. If you’ve ever thought that by New Year’s day you’ve had enough sweets, spending and parties, imagine if it went on for a month!
A stroll through the center of Florence this time of year after dark would take your breath away. In addition to the enormous Christmas trees that grace the piazzas in front of the Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio, the streets are strung with thousands of overhead lights, and the annual Firenze Light festival illuminates various landmarks around the city with projected video images. For a peek at a more normal holiday season in Tuscany and ideas of things to do this time of year, complete with Christmas markets and feasts, check out our blog post from this time last year.
Though Catholicism is the dominant religion in Italy, with 75% of the country’s population identifying with the religion, Florence is not at all a bad place to celebrate Hannukah as well. Florence is home to the Great Synagogue, which is a beautiful, massive, mid nineteenth-century building just a few blocks east of the Duomo. This is where many of the city’s Jewish community, in a typical year, would gather to celebrate. Its green copper dome can’t be missed amid the terracotta of the Florence skyline. We hope that our friends around the world who celebrate Hannukah had a happy and peaceful one this year.
This year, with events canceled and people staying close to home, Florence decided to simply outdo itself. For this quieter and more somber holiday season, residents are treated to an especially spectacular display of lights. This year’s theme for the Firenze Light festival is dedicated to Dante in advance of the 700th anniversary of the great poet’s death, and features scenes from the Divine Comedy projected on bridges and buildings, including the iconic Ponte Vecchio pictured below. One of my favorite bloggers, Girl in Florence, offers some insight into how we might follow Dante’s lead in navigating through the dark times of 2020 in her clever piece “What would Dante do? How a 700-year-old poem keeps it relatable.”
Mayor Dario Nardella of Florence has worked to ensure that twinkling lights grace the streets and monuments in all corners of his city, and to include the city’s main hospital buildings as a message of gratitude and support for the frontline workers. He said “Florence keeps its lights on and sends a message of closeness, respect and hope to citizens at the end of a very difficult year.” See The Florentine’s coverage of the 2020 Christmas lights of Florence here.
The hours during which the holiday lights can be enjoyed are cut shorter this year. Among the Covid-related restrictions currently in place in Italy is a nationwide curfew of 10pm. Additionally, under a decree passed earlier this month, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day will see no movement of residents between cities and towns other than due to work or emergencies. The authorities have also banned movement between the country’s twenty regions from December 21st through January 6th. Ski resorts are closed, and people are encouraged to enjoy a quiet holiday at home with their immediate families. Just as I write this, The Florentine has published another article here outlining new refinements to the rules, and to say that it’s confusing is an understatement. While Tuscany moves into the “yellow zone” on December 20th, which brings looser restrictions, the nationwide Christmas lockdown still begins four days later and more closely resembles “red zone” rules. People are required to stay home. But there are exceptions including running errands within your town, exercising outdoors by yourself, going to work carrying a self-declaration letter regarding your requirement to work outside the home, going to care for a family member or friend, and my personal favorite- gathering in your home with up to 2 adults outside of your household, if they live in the same region, while observing curfew hours, and only up to once a day. Are we confused yet? I do hope that these measures help Italy bring its Covid numbers down and save lives. If this works, it will all be worthwhile.
It’s sad to think how quiet the streets in my beloved Tuscany will be this year. I heard from a friend who lives in the Chianti hills, who will be preparing a smaller-than-usual traditional Christmas lunch for her immediate family, while missing relatives who are not permitted in from their locations. The guinea foul and roasted ham sound delicious, and I feel bad for her distant relatives who are missing out. Another friend is sad to miss the New Year’s Eve party that usually occurs in his small village in southern Tuscany, complete with bonfire and fireworks. Instead, this year he will celebrate at home with close family. While the sense of longing can be heard in their voices, my Tuscan friends seem to still be feeling some holiday cheer, and appreciating the small things. For one thing, their families are lucky enough to enjoy good health this year- something we cannot take for granted. A friend who lives right outside of Florence left me a long, lovely voice message about what things are like right now. On the streets of Florence, people are not panicking, not panic-buying, and other than things being quieter, it feels pretty normal. From her perspective, everyone is cautious and follows the rules. She’s baking the cookies this year for the first time, an honor usually reserved for her mom who is unable to visit. She’s appreciating this opportunity to provide the cookies as part of a heartfelt gift to friends and neighbors. She says that because Florence is so dependent on tourism, many locals have less disposable income, which serves to dampen the consumeristic mood and force people to focus on what is most important. You may write a special note, or bake something for a friend. If you do have money, you may support a local artisan or find a worthy cause for a donation. In her words, “Florence is beautiful… it has been the best place you could have wished to be stuck in, surrounded by beauty.” She says “right now I’m driving over a bridge. The water during the wintertime changes every day. It is breathtakingly gorgeous.” She concludes her message by reminding me, “If you are lucky enough to have your family close, everything else is secondary.”
Here’s hoping that this will be our last pandemic holiday season, and here’s to a healthy, happy and prosperous 2021.