Christmas, to me, is a very traditional time of year. While, in many cases, I like to shake it up, try new things, and have new experiences, Christmas is one thing I always like to keep the same. For me, Christmas creates the magic of the season, and I always try to keep to my traditions, which highlight my holiday. These traditions include: not listening to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving, but then listening to it every day, slowly building myself up to a Christmas frenzy that culminates in Christmas Eve midnight mass; watching A Muppet Christmas Carol with my family; and waking up to Christmas at my house.
However, knowing Bocconi’s final exam policy for international students would keep me from home until late on December 23rd, I knew I had to take action to get me into the Christmas spirit before then.
Now, I already mentioned how traditional I am about Christmas, but I have to say, my attitude of being open to new experiences helped propel me to success yet again. The City of Milan took on a great atmosphere, with Christmas lights, ornaments, and garland decorating streets throughout the city. Decorations were out, people were in great spirits, and despite being distracted by an intense amount of studying, this helped to make my last weeks in Milan quite enjoyable.
The enjoyment started with the Milan Christmas Market, which opens annually from the 13th – 19th of December. This market was incredible. With tents completely surrounding the large Castello Sforzesco (a castle) and leading up to the beautiful Parco Sempione (a park), it was in a perfect central location of the city. Flooded with people everyday, it was a mad house, with people purchasing antiques, CDs, wood carvings, paintings… anything you could think of, besides mainstream consumer products. The best thing for me had to be all of the food and snack carts. For the traditional eater, there were Italian pastries (including incredible cannoli, fried donuts, and my favorite, Nutella crepes), delicious panzerotti, sausage sandwiches, and even a cart with 100 different types of jelly beans. Braver participants could even try a fried, hollowed-out coconut, or a grilled and sugared corn-on-the-cob-on-a-stick. The weather was certainly cold, but the crowds of people, amazing food, and festive music kept you more than distracted. (I even got my grandparents a real Italian newspaper there from 1929!)
The next of my fond Christmas memories came during a final night out with all of my friends from Richmond. With 15 of us studying in Milan, we had all had a great opportunity to bond and decided to celebrate our strengthened friendships and shared memories with one last goodbye dinner. A classic Italian dinner, complete with meat, pasta, and red wine, was excellent and led to a casual stroll around downtown Milan in order to digest. We walked to the Duomo, which was home to a beautiful and enormous Christmas tree for the holiday season. It was quite a sight to see, and helped all of us forget about the stresses of finals for a little bit and be launched quickly into the Christmas spirit. After being in awe at the tree’s beauty, taking some pictures, and even participating in some impromptu American caroling, we all felt much more comfortable about spending our holiday season away from home.
My third, and final, lovely Christmas memory from my abroad experience came in the form of a final goodbye party with all of my international friends. Over the course of the semester, I made many friends from around the world through my intensive Italian class, through living in an international dorm, and by coaching my intramural soccer team. With friends from France, Spain, Switzerland, Brazil, Germany, Netherlands, Australia, and, of course, Italy, I was able to meet people I never would have otherwise met and was able to see parts of the world in a new light. My international friends and I decided to have a goodbye party complete with a Christmas gift exchange, or Polyanna. We all bought gifts for a specific person with a 15 euro limit (we are still broke college kids) and many people cooked dishes from their home countries, so we had a wonderful Christmas feast and gift exchange. While it was hard saying goodbye to these people, knowing I might never see them again, we went out on a high note with a really nice night, and the promise to keep in touch.
Overall, this was far from my normal Christmas, but in some ways, it was more meaningful. When I returned home, I was reminded of the importance of family and friendship, which is what Christmas is truly about, and I truly wanted nothing for Christmas besides being around the people I love and care about. Christmas time in Milan is lovely, and being together with my loved ones for the first time in 4 months for Christmas proved to be a magical occasion. Once again, Milan gave me one final great experience.