How do Italians celebrate Christmas? Find out, and learn some useful words and phrases for talking about the festive period in this episode of 5 minute Italian.
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Today’s Italian words
In Italia = in Italy
Spesso = often
Apriamo = we open
I regali = the presents
La vigilia = Christmas eve
Il ventiquattro = the 24th
Di solito = usually
Si mangia = one eats
Pesce = fish
Capodanno = New Year’s
Lenticchie = lentils
Auguri = congratulations/happy holidays
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Click here to take the quiz for this episode: Buon Natale! How Italians Celebrate Christmas
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Please note, this is not a word for word transcript.
Katie: How do Italians celebrate Christmas? Find out, and learn some useful words and phrases for talking about the festive period in episode 34 of 5 minute Italian.
K: Ciao a tutti e benvenuti a 5 minute Italian, hi everyone and welcome to 5 minute Italian. I’m Katie…
M: And I’m Matteo. Ciao.
K: And we’re getting ready for Christmas! So we thought it would be nice to do an episode about Christmas in Italy, so we’ll talk about the culture and some useful words and phrases for talking about the holidays.
Let’s ask Matteo. You’ve celebrated Christmas with us before in England. What would you say are the main differences between Christmas in Italy and in England.
Matteo: In Italia, spesso apriamo i regali la vigilia, il ventiquattro.
K: In Italy, people often open their presents on Christmas Eve, the 24th. I would have loved that when I was younger because you get so excited about presents so getting them a day early would’ve been amazing. In this sentence, we’ve got in Italia (in Italy). Spesso (often). Next, apriamo, which means “we open”. That comes from the verb aprire to open. To say we open, we remove the “-are”, and add the “we” ending -iamo. Apriamo. Then we heard i regali (the presents) and la vigilia which means Christmas Eve.
Next, you heard il venti quattro which means “the 24th”. Italian is simpler than English because you don’t have to worry about learning ordinal numbers like the 3rd or the 18th to say dates. They just say “the” (il) plus the number, for example il 24. OK, what else?
M: Di solito, si mangia pesce il 24.
K: So we started with di solito, which means “usually”. Then, we had si mangia, which literally means “one eats”. And this structure is used much more often in English than in Italian. It’s called the si impersonale. The impersonal “si”. And it’s used when we talk about people in general, when we’re not talking about a specific person doing the action. We heard this last week with the phrase si può comprare un biglietto qui? “can one buy a ticket here?”. And in this context, we’re talking about eating in general in Italy, not what a specific person eats, so Matteo used this si impersonale form.
So we had si mangia, (one eats). Then pesce which means fish. Then you heard il 24 again, the 24th, or literally “the 24”. Notice Italians don’t use the word “on” to talk about dates either. Di solito, si mangia pesce il 24. Usually, Italians eat fish on the 24th. Do you know why that is?
M: It’s part of Catholic tradition, where they don’t eat meat during certain times of the year.
K: Do you know anything more?
M: No because it changes between regions in Italy. So you can have meat sometimes for other regions in the North. Sometimes in the North, they are closer to your traditions in the North. So they eat on the 25th and they don’t eat on Christmas Eve.
K: Yes, I’ve found that interesting speaking to some of my Italian students. Somebody from the North of Italy will have a totally different Christmas to someone from the south.
K: Ok and what about lunch on Christmas day?
M: So we have “tacchino farcito”.
K: Stuffed turkey
M: And tortellini in brodo
K: Is that like ravioli but a different shape? So stuffed pasta. In broth.
M: Yea, usually it’s meat broth. And that’s it. Then it’s up to everyone to fill all the things, like in the menu, like the insalata di rinforzo.
K: What’s that? Salad of…?
M: It’s quite strange, it’s something from the South. It’s with… cavolo
M: Olive nere
K: Black olives
M: And other stuff. That I don’t actually remember, but it’s quite good!
K: Now tell us a bit about capodanno, “New Year”. You have a special tradition at midnight, don’t you?
M: Yea, we eat lenticchie
M: Which is “lentils”
M: It’s good luck. We say that you have to eat at least 3 spoons of lenticche and you will have money next year.
K: And just one last thing – I was in Italy one capodanno and I was really impressed by Italian’s staying power. What time do Italians normally go to be on New Year’s Eve, or should I say in the morning on New Year’s Day?
M: Probably around 7, after the sunrise.
K: So how would you say that time in Italian?
M: Alle sette.
K: That’s it for today, all that’s left to say is: auguri which means something like happy holidays. We’ll be back in…
That’s all we have time for today, thanks for listening. And if you’d like to get more mini Italian lessons delivered to your inbox, don’t forget to subscribe by following the link below. Grazie, and ciao for now, see you next time, or as we say in Italian, alla prossima!
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