Musings on Boxing Day

When you are a child, Christmas time is fabulous. When you are a child born on the third of December, named Stefania, Christmas time is a long Dionysiac festival, a bacchanal, which starts exactly the day of your birthday and whose wild dances die out the day of the Epiphany. Well, when I was a child. I should have realized that something was about to change the moment when accidentally I was told that, from then on, the name-day present was part of the Christmas present, implying that I would have received only one gift but, of course, a more expensive one. Was it really so? I don’t know. Actually, I didn’t give much consequence to that slight change of plan, after all, the name-day present was usually really a small thing, just the emotion of unwrapping the little surprise. That was all.

By the way, after few years, I started to suspect that something was going the wrong way, when I was told that I was too old to expect the usual sock full of candies, coins and that delicious sugar in the form and colour of charcoal, which was usually given to all the bad children in the world -and I was happily one if them – along with a present by the old and scary Befana witch. Old? Old at thirty!I couldn’t believe it.

As the time went by, I realized that December had become a “problem” for all my relatives and friends, as very likely, when you are no longer a child, it is less obvious to find a present that you really need or wish, let alone 4 in a month, so, before I knew it, the four presents had become one. Now I can candidly say that being born and having my name-day celebrated in December is a bummer. Furthermore, my beloved husband Mr Run and I (?) have decided that this year we would have waited for the sale season to buy and exchange our presents. Of course, mine will be something invaluable he said, but I suspect another….bummer?

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A Christmas Fairy Tale

Even that year a beauty contest was held among the firs of the snowy valleys of the North of Italy in order to spot the most luxurious, majestic tree worthy to represent the Christmas spirit in the capital; yet, something really extraordinary happened for the first time: the contest got deserted. The sad story of the winner of the previous year, which was of a stunning beauty, as far as everybody could remember, had been the talk of the those valleys for months and months. How could it be that such a magnificent tree had become the object of worldwide derision so that to be named: “Spelacchio”(Mangy)? Nobody could explain it. There were also rumors about its having been turned into lumber to build a wooden house, where, it seemed, mothers could change and breastfeed their children. “Mothers in Rome don’t have proper places to perform those operations?” they murmured. “Strange, indeed.” “How had they called it?” “Oh, I know it: “Baby Little Home“.Those stories were too scary to remain indifferent. That was not exactly the destiny that a winner of a beauty contest deserved, everybody believed. “Turned into logs to make a hut?” “No way!”

So, when Christmas time approached, all the firs made their best to look as shabby as possible in order to avoid to be chosen. Those which were easily affected by these tales, turned soon grey with fear, while others thought about asking the help of some birds which hovered nearby for : ” Could you pluck some of my pine needles, please?” the fir asked some finches, which had just comfortably perched on one of its branches. “But, isn’t it going to be too painful?” “Don’t worry. You would save my life!” “Pluck as many as you can, please!” The finches were so touched by the imploring tone of its voice, that they demanded no more explanations and promptly set to work. They knew the poor fir was suffering, even if they endeavoured to be as delicate as possible. The brave tree bore it, without saying a word.

“What’s happened here?” said one the organizers of the contest. It seemed as if some sort of virus had spread among the firs of the Alps. “So weird! It has infected only the firs, as the pines, the larches and even those chestnuts look perfectly well !” “What shall we sent to Rome?” “Oh, they might use an artificial tree!” said another one. “An artificial tree! After what happened last year! Nonsense!” While they were walking through that desolation,wondering about what was the best option they had, they couldn’t believe their eyes! What a stroke of luck ! Before them stood a strong, healthy, fabulous tree. “Quick, pull it down!” said one of the organizer, as they were already late in delivery and after a few hours they left the place. It was only when all the men and the unfortunate tree were far enough that the firs recovered their bloom,vigor and serenity. At least for a year.

The winner had recently emigrated from a Southern valley of the Apennines and knew nothing of the sad story of Spelacchio. He had been fully informed by the trees nearby too late to put in place the strategies of its neighbors and now, there it was. Just like the previous year, the fir was accurately prepared and delicately placed on a lorry on a bed of cushions and tied, but this time, as it was too long and big for that lorry, many of its branches were cut. The tree heard some men saying that those branches would have been nailed to the stem once arrived at “Piazza Venezia” in Rome. “What a barbarous treatment!” he thought , “Being crucified at Christmas! That’s intolerable!” But nothing could be done, it was decided.

When it eventually arrived in the capital, it was so tired and looked so ruffled and poor after having been mutilated that not even in its wildest dreams the fir believed it might become that Christmas tree the capital deserved and had been waiting for years. A group of people were made curious by that scene, gathered around it and started frantically to take pictures: “This is even worse than Spelacchio” they sneered “at least, it had its branches on. Let’s call it Spezzacchio (from to cut= spezzare)” and went away laughing. It was mortified.

But that night, after the workers had reassembled its branches, something extraordinary happened. While it was sleeping as it was too worn out, a fairy, named Netflix, came by moved to pity and sprinkled some of her magic dust all over the fir. In a bit the tree found itself covered with Christmas ornaments, thousands colorful balls and a myriad of lights. When it opened its eyes, the fir could see only happy faces that looked on it in admiration. It could even feel a warm touch. It was a child who was petting its left branch tenderly and exclaimed: “Look mum, what a wonderful Christmas tree!”

This story has a moral: there is always hope. After almost three years of this adminstration we have eventually succeeded in having a decent Christmas tree, maybe in 20 years pot-holes and garbage won’t be a problem any longer of this city. We must learn to be patient and believe that a fairy one day will make things right. You’ve got to believe it, at least at Christmas time.

In the meantime, Merry Christmas everyone!!

The Den of Christmas Spirit

cri2cri3If you watch the bright Christmas lights with eyes of wonder, while walking in the familiar streets of your city like a little child, if you get lost for hours in a mall searching for gifts to put under the tree picturing the joyful reaction of those who will receive them, if you are thrilled only at the idea of gathering around a dinner table with your family and friends or simply if you find yourself sitting at the window hoping for the snow to come ( I might actually wait for years or decades here in Rome), well, this is the spirit of Christmas that comes to visit you at this time of the year. But rather, if you are annoyed by the people who crowd in frenzy streets and shops and if you are anguished and appalled by the imminent visit of your friends and relations and if a sense of nausea arouses, just thinking at the presents you’ll have to buy or the faces you’ll have to see, or if you just don’t stand at that window, because in case it really snowed, Rome would be paralyzed and we would pay the consequences for weeks and weeks, what does that mean? That you are an insensitive, cruel, selfish human being? Not exactly. It means that you suffer from the bah humbug” syndrome. I’m not joking, this is science or better: Science with capital letter.

 cri1A group of Danish medical scientists in their own spirit of holiday fun, published a study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) asserting that the spirit of Christmas does not actually come to visit us every year, but rather, it resides in us and precisely in our brain.That is why this tradition with its blissful and magical atmosphere has lasted for hundreds and hundreds of years. A team of researchers of Rigshospitalet hospital, in collaboration with the University of Copenhagen, set out to locate exactly where the old spirit of Christmas hides in the brain using modern MRI machinery to study the changes of oxygenation and blood flow that occur in response to neuronal activity. So, they divided participants into two groups, one of people who had strong Christmas traditions and the other with people who did not celebrate it. The latter group included Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi and Turkish people who expatriated or were born in Denmark. People who did not celebrate it, but still felt a strong connection to the holiday were excluded, as were people who did celebrate but had a negative association with it. In short, 20 people were examined while they were watching  84 images with Christmas themes alternated to scenes of everyday life. For example, they were shown a street decorated with lights and then an ordinary street. 

cri5Among the participants who were placed in first group,  the researchers  have identified five regions of the brain which lit up like Christmas trees when holiday images were shown. These regions are commonly associated with spirituality and they control the sense of touch and body language interpretation . This led the researchers to determine there is a “Christmas spirit network” in the human brain. It’s in these brain areas that the spirit of Christmas resides. Therefore, those who do not like Christmas and believe that it is all nonsense, are actually affected by what scientists call bah humbug” syndrome.  A syndrome that affects millions of people, especially adults and that could be cured.  The researchers, in fact, suggested that locating the Christmas spirit in the brain can help reverse that sad syndrome. Maybe someday there will be a complex machine that can generate the Christmas spirit in people, and why only at Christmas time? Couldn’t we enjoy it every single day of the year?
In the meantime, I wish you to fully enjoy your Christmas spirit and have a great time.
Merry Christmas.
Stefy. 🙂