My Fondest Memory of Italy in January
It’s one of my fondest memories of Rome. It wasn’t summertime, spring, or even a cool fall day. It was New Year’s Day, and it was, despite the chilly weather, delightful. There we were sitting in front of the famous Pantheon as the sun was setting. Yes, it was January, and we were enjoying our vino rosso outside. Thanks to the wide awnings or massive umbrella stands along with the numerous gas heaters that dot almost every restaurant and wine bar that offers al fresco dining, New Year’s Day in Rome was something to behold.
You’re shielded from inclement weather while being able to embrace the fresh air. Families strolled through the piazzas. Street musicians entertained and local artists sold their paintings. Instead of feeling a chill and wanting to run inside, as one might expect, we were quite comfortable, and it wasn’t just the wine. The temperatures in Italy during the early winter months can vary, depending on your destination, but Rome usually experiences weather in the mid 50’s during the day and mid 40’s in the evening. The temperatures are similar south of the Eternal City as well, even all the way down to the island of Sicily where you might see 60 degrees on some days. It’s hardly beach weather. There will be some damp days with rain or even light snow. And as the headline of this blog indicates, Italy in the winter is not for everyone, but that is the point.
Of course, if you’re an outdoor sports enthusiast northern Italy is your winter wonderland playground, perfect for skiing, and sledding to your heart’s content. But the good news about Italy in January, for those travelers, myself included, that are hardly cold weather enthusiasts, Italy is still well worth considering during this season, as it is not so much what you will find, but what you won’t find that’s so attractive. And what’s missing will please those looking for a less hectic and more affordable Italy holiday.
First and foremost, you won’t find massive crowds of tourists. New Year’s Day was pleasantly busy with plenty of activities available, but again minus the crowds. And now that Italy during the high seasons of spring and summer, are at or above pre-Covid levels, not finding throngs of people at every turn, is worth the cooler temperatures. You’ll also be impressed by what you won’t find when it comes to your budget. Not only are hotel and air fare prices lower, but just wait until it’s time to shop for that leather bag, designer shoes, or that nice pair of gold earrings you’re hoping to take home. Can you say “saldi” or sales? In January shopping until you drop in Italy is a lot easier on the wallet as there are saldi or sales everywhere and they last for several weeks. Even the guided tours are cheaper this time of year. For all these reasons and more, Italy in January is indeed vacation worthy.
Spaghetti with Clams
If you’re looking to start cooking Italian dishes this year, I offer a simple pasta recipe very popular with Italians for their New Year celebrations, and all year, especially in the south. Make this easy classic dish, pasta vongole or pasta with clams. It’s quick, satisfying, and very delicious. The light sauce is also great for sopping up with some good crusty Italian bread. This dish also gives you plenty of time to enjoy your family and friends, and not spend too much much time in the kitchen.
This recipe from the Food Network is very similar to my own recipe.
Come On In, The Water’s Fine – Introduction To The Amalfi Coast
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One of the main attractions for those with the Amalfi Coast on their bucket list is the water. I give you a taste of what to expect from the beaches of famous Positano.
Epiphany in Italy
Although in most of Christendom, especially on the Catholic liturgical calendar, we have the eight days or the Octave of Christmas, along with the feast of the Epiphany on January 6th, you wouldn’t know it in the U.S. thanks to Madison Avenue. Valentine’s cards, decorations, and gift items began lining the shelves on December 26th, even earlier in some areas.
If you attend Mass or church services regularly, you understand that Epiphany is also the 12th day of Christmas. However, in our increasingly secularized American culture, it means little or nothing. Not the case in Italy. As a matter of fact, it is quite the opposite. Epiphany is just as important as Christmas, involving great family gatherings, along with public festivities and celebrations. It is also a national holiday.
This came as a surprise to me the first time I experienced Epiphany in Rome. I was trying to make my way to St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus message, hoping to not only see the Pope, but to be able to get some of my religious items blessed. I was staying in an apartment that would normally be only a ten-minute cab ride to the Vatican, but on this Sunday morning traffic was so backed up, that I ended up getting out of the cab and walking from the Tiber all the way down the main avenue leading to the basilica, the Via Della Conciliazione.
There were people everywhere, many of whom were dressed in elaborate, medieval costumes, mimicking the regal dress of the Magi of the Bible. By the time I made my way into the square I was almost trampled by costumed men on horseback, yes you read correctly, on horseback.
This feast in Italy is serious business, and something to see as the decorations are just as vibrant as they were weeks before Christmas. And that’s not all. During and even a few days after the feast of the Epiphany, if you head to the mountain top town of Greccio in the Lazio region, you’ll have the opportunity to see a special play dedicated to St. Francis, who among other things, established the first nativity scene in this location centuries ago.
If you’re planning to go in mid to late January, there will be a feast day of another kind, on January 17th to celebrate St. Anthony the Abbot. This saint happens to be the patron of butchers, domestic animals, and grave diggers. In Rome, the church of San Atonio Abate will have a special “blessing of the beasts”. And in Assisi’s Santa Maria degli Angeli, or St. Mary of the Angels, celebrates with an elaborate procession of horses and other animals.
In Italy, there is always a faith-based celebration, even as the wonderous season of Christmas winds down. Buon Natale, Felice anno nuovo!
Newly Canonized Italian Saints!
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La Dolce Fede: Sweet Life of Faith Pilgrimage November 2022
Assisi, Orvieto, Greccio, Viterbo, Rome!
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Photo: Shutterstock/Alliance Images, Vittorio Caramazza, Federico Magonio, DronG, Guzel Studio, New Africa.