Christmas is just around the corner and, if you are anything like me, you are getting pretty excited about it.
For those among us who believe in God and are, of course, Christians, this is an immensely beautiful and intense moment of the year, when something much more important and poignant than presents and glitzy trees permeates the air, the minds, the hearts.
Anyway, whether you are a believer or not, Christmas remains a moment of shared love and affection, a moment for gifts. This is not the place or the time to start a diatribe about consumerism versus purity of feelings and emotions, though: we buy presents for the ones we love and that is what ultimately counts, that we show love to those around us who deserve it. So, there… nothing evil or immoral about it.
If you happen to have a lover of Italy among your cherished ones, giving a made in Italy, or quintessentially Italian present this Christmas could be nice, or so we thought here at Lifeinitaly. We rounded up a bunch of ideas, some pretty traditionals, other a tad quirkier, to help you out in your quest for the perfect Italian present!
An Italian Christmas for All!
For the homemaker: artisanal Italian pottery
Handmade pottery is one of Italy’s best know artisanal products, with a long and fascinating history. You may be familiar, at least by name, with famous Capodimonte porcelain, produced near Naples, the beautiful ceramics of Sicily – Santo Stefano di Camastra‘s are my favorites – or lifeinitaly‘s beloved Deruta ceramics.
As a Piedmontese, I have to mention the amazing, albeit not very well known outside Italy, Besio Ceramics of Villanova Mondovì, characterized by their prussian blue decorations and cockerels: a true pleasure to look at and to use. Thun is another extremely popular Italian ceramics brand hailing from Trentino Alto-Adige, known especially for its beautiful figurines and decorative art. Thun’s style is highly recognizable and hugely loved in Italy, to the point the brand has extended into homeware, jewellery and accessories.
Pottery is a great gift for all people who love their own home and want beautiful, unique things for it: versatile and precious, a piece of handmade pottery can really make the difference in any room. You can choose a decorative piece, like a statuette or a vase, or something useful for the kitchen or the bathroom. Consider also we are talking fully handmade, hence highly collectible, items, whose value is bound to rise in time. You could really be gifting your Italy-mad friend a little treasure this Christmas!
For the Gourmet: a Personalized Food Basket or a Subscription to La Cucina Italiana
Not that original, you may say… But you know what? Even a food basket can be original if you are smart with your choices.
Nowadays you can get Italian coffee, prosciutto and parmigiano a bit everywhere, so you should go for something a bit more original. Instead of filling a basket with Italian products, make a “recipe basket”. Let me explain: pick a nice Italian recipe, something traditional and seasonal (you can check our recipe section or our Italian Christmas kitchen series for some inspiration), make a list of all the ingredients you need to make it from scratch, head to your chosen store and get them all.
Of course, go for the best quality stuff you can get your mits on. If the recipe calls for fresh ingredients you are afraid will spoil or rot – like fresh meat or vegetables – talk to your local butcher and greengrocer, explain them your idea and ask if you can pay in advance for what is needed. They will probably give you a purchase-proving receipt or even a voucher, in which case you could include it directly in the basket.
If you want, you could add some pottery or kitchen utensils to make your gift even nicer. Get a lovely wicker basket, use your creativity to pack it and, of course, add a copy of the recipe you chose in it! A nicely hand written version would be lovely, but you can always rely on your computer and a fancy font, in case you are not a master of calligraphy.
If your gourmet friend reads Italian, you could also invest in a yearly subscription to Italy’s own culinary Bible, La Cucina Italiana. We are talking cooking magazine royalty here, so do not think any other would do. La Cucina Italiana has a long and respected history that started in 1929. Every Italian chef knows it; every great Italian cook, grandmas included, have at least a couple of copies hanging around the house. La Cucina Italiana proposes both paper and digital subscriptions and, at the moment, they offer highly discounted prices (you save about 50% on average subscription price) for both yearly and bi-yearly paper subscriptions, with digital copies of each number sent to you for free every month. Admittedly, international subscriptions are much more expensive: a 12 month paper subscription to La Cucina Italiana with US delivery will set you back 130 USD, which is steep. Yearly digital subscriptions, though, go for just 25 USD: totally affordable!
For the Avid Reader: A Collection of Italian Literature
Books are always a safe bet for your reading friends: it does not matter how many they already have, they will be delighted with any addition to their own personal library. I like to gift books because they can be a very intimate and loving present to make: the topic, the plot, the style… there are so many variables at play, each of them defined by the likes, passions and tastes of whomever the present is for. On top of that, there is the fact you choose what you like, so you can play literary critic while at it.
You are very much all aware of the beauty and variety of Italian literature and of its worldwide relevance, so we will not get into that here (but we sort of do here, so take a look!). Depending on your friends’ taste, you can go for an Italian novel, a classic, something about Italian history or, if you want, create a mini collection of Bel Paese-related books and really make someone happy.
As I deal with books and literature by training and education, I can be of some help here…
If you want Italian classics, then look no further than some of our best and adored: Boccaccio‘s Decameron, for the friend who is into Medieval slapstick humour à la Chaucer; The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa for 19th century family sagas’ lovers, and Moravia’s The Woman of Rome for those with a penchant for neorealism and 1940s ambiences.
I suggest also you look into an amazing Italian writer of the first half of the 20th century, Cesare Pavese, who is not much known outside of Italy. Pavese wrote most of his work during the years of the Fascist régime, of which he was an ardent opposer, his political views very much transparent in most of his novels. Set largely in the piedmontese countryside where he grew up, Pavese’s prose works are perfect for those who love history based plots and disillusioned narrations of life and death at times of war. Personally, I think Pavese gives his best as a poet: one collection above them all, Verrà la Morte e Avrà i Tuoi Occhi, known in English as Death will Come and have Your Eyes, published in 1951 one year after his death, gives an amazing insight into his poetical talent, as well as that very malaise which brought him to take his own life at the age of 42. An absolute gem of Italian contemporary literature. As an incise, two poems in this collection are in English, as Pavese loved and knew the language well: Italy got to know modern American literature largely thanks to his work of dissemination and translation.
Pierpaolo Pasolini‘s literary corpus is incredible, even though many find his fictional production hard to digest because of the topics treated. I personally adore it, but if unsure, you should go for his poetry or his journalistic collections rather than his novels.
If you want something more recent, check out Alessandro Baricco for made in Italy magical realism, and Niccolò Ammaniti for something still surreal in narrative and aesthetics, but more reality grounded in its content. Want something thought provoking? Choose Oriana Fallaci‘s current affairs and journalistic works. Umberto Eco‘s most famous novel The Name of the Rose is a great piece, but do not limit yourself to it if Eco is your author of choice: Baudolino, The Cemetery of Prague and The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana are all amazing works.
Italian literature in English is widely available in most large bookstores or, of course, on good old Amazon.
For the Christmas enthusiast: original Italian Presepi
A lot has been said about presepi in Italy these last years. Like it or not, presepe in Italy is not only a Christian symbol and a representation of our own heritage, but also an artistic form. Italy, and Naples in particular, is renowned around the world for the beautiful, handcrafted figurines created to decorate nativities. If you have friends who are into Italian crafts and like presepi or Christian imagery, then an original Italian presepe piece could be an amazing gift.
We are talking about bona fide pieces of art here, so the fear of getting a fake is just around the corner. To avoid it, try to select carefully the place you buy from. Of course, if you happen to be in Naples just now, you will find whatever you wish in San Gregorio Armeno. If you are in the US, you have two options: either track down a local store dealing in this type of things or – a much easier solution, in my humble opinion, unless you yourself know a trusted seller IRL – is to purchase your pieces online. Fontanini, for instance, is an Italian company which has been producing presepi since 1908 and has a large selection available online. Their style is based on that of Lucca’s pottery masters, elegant and pleasant at once. Another good website with a lot of options, including Neapolitan presepe pieces is presepi.com. Both offer international delivery.
Check also ilpresepedinapoli.it, which specializes in Neapolitan figurines. It also has interesting sections with gift ideas and sales.
For the Music Enthusiast: Opera Tickets
If you have a friend into opera, then they are, somehow, into Italian music. It is hard to like the genre without liking Italian opera, as our own composers very much dominated the scene, especially from the Romantic period onward. I think that tickets to a good, proper opera performance is an amazing gift for any music lover out there and you can easily satisfy your yearning to “gift Italian” by choosing a present like that.
Of course, I am well aware of it, this is a present you can make only if there is a decent opera house in your area, unless you want to throw in also plane fare and accomodation into the deal. Just to give you an idea, however, here are some “made in Italy” performances around the US you may like to get tickets for…
The New York Metropolitan Opera season is always filled with Italian pieces: these months it’s Verdi‘s La Traviata. There is a lot on offer, with a good majority of the operas on stage this seasons hailing from the Bel Paese. Prices for each ticket vary, of course, depending on the seats, the time and the day of performance, but reductions are available based on age.
Los Angeles Opera has also an interesting season, and often Italian opera; San Francisco Opera has currently Partenope on schedule: music is by Handel, but singing is in Italian. All opera houses’ websites offer the possibility to purchase tickets online, to choose your seats and gives interesting background on each performance. You know, in case you do not know much about opera, but want to write something cool about it on your music buff friend’s Christmas card…
These are, of course, only a bunch of gift ideas for your Christmas, but Italy has much more to offer. At the same time, there is enough in this short article to make a couple of your mates happy for sure. Otherwise, you can always stick with chocolate! Oh! Hang on… you may like to go Italian with that, too!