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THURSDAY, DECEMBER 13, 2018 www.italoamericano.org L'Italo-Americano 2 C hristmas is getting closer and the festive climate typical of the period, already anticipated by Thanksgiving, fills the air. Our shiny malls are full to the brim with people looking for the perfect present, lights and ornaments make our home even homier and light up our neighbors' driveways; many of us haven't sent their Christmas Card for friends and family on time. In Italy, in Saint Peter's Square, the very heart of Christianity, Christmas places in the spotlight the most traditional symbols of these festivities, even if there's space for some novelties. There, where tradition wants the presepe created by Saint Francis of Assisi to celebrate the Holy Family, this year we find a Nativity entirely made with sand. A work of art of immense beauty and suggestion, created following an ancient method used to sculpt the sandstone typical of the coastal area around Jesolo, in Veneto. A bas- relief reproducing the Nativity, made with 700 tons of Dolomites sand by four artists coming from different countries, coordinated by Richard Varano, American, and world known for his sand sculpture work. This year, Nazareth's Holy Family looks like a family of migrants: on a boat about to reach land, we find Mary and Baby Jesus with Joseph who, protectively, brings them to safety. The sculpture has a message of great actuality, that ties together Italy's coasts to the Mexican-American borders. Then, it uses a poor and ephemeral material, sand, thus becoming the very symbol of life, with its fragility and temporariness. And always in there, within Saint Peter's colonnato, among folk dances and Christmas Carols, this year's Christmas tree has been lighted. A large pine coming from the Foresta del Cansiglio, in the Pordenone area, from that Friuli hit only a few weeks ago by a devastating wave of bad weather that caused immense damages to the area's natural patrimony. Veneto and Friuli lost a huge part of their multi-secular forests, felled in an instant by powerful winds. The same winds that brought destruction to California. The tree, which is almost 25 meters high, becomes, then, a symbol of rising anew from ashes, of retuning to life, just like the pagan myth of the phoenix has been telling us since the beginning of times. Nothing, really, is simply what it seems. Going beyond appearances: it's not only Christmas teaching it From the director There isn't only a presepe, a tree, a Nativity. Behind what we see, behind the dishes we cook, the cakes we bake at this time of the year, behind the decorations we put on our festive table, or that we use to fill with light and colors our homes, there's something much more precious and rich in history: our popular traditions, customs and beliefs. Let's make another example, which is only apparently far from what we've been saying so far. Matera is known to be the beautiful town of Sassi and, during Christmastime, it offers some beautiful strolls. If you look at it from a distance, from those panoramic spots that leave you breathless when you glance at the city during the day, you'll notice that, at night, Matera's just like a large presepe, all those lights embracing it, offering an unforgettable view. If you walk its streets, you'll actually come across a presepe vivente, a living Nativity, one of the most famous of Italy. Professional artists in historical costumes interpret the various scenes of the Annunciation, of Herod, of the Nativity, bringing to mind the beauty of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. It is an emotional tour, that takes place in a breathtaking scenery. But behind a place's beauty, behind the charming tufa grottos and pre-Christian dwellings, behind the rocky habitat where people have been living since the Paleolithic and the diffused archeological park, there is some hidden history. The wonderful Sassi that, today, shine bright with their own lights, not so long ago where home to people too poor to afford any comfort, to the point that in the 1950s, they were forced to leave them. The appalling, unhealthy living conditions of these people, gained Matera the definition of "national shame:" basic hygienic standards, a proper sewage system and running water were all missing in the Sassi. Since then, a slow but powerful transformation brought Matera, a novel phoenix, to become Europe's Capital of Culture in 2019. We say that appearances often trick us. Or that, at least, they never quite tell the whole truth. The presents' exchange on Christmas morning, or a beautiful and attractive place, just like the ancient and cinema-friendly Matera, often hide so much more. Our effort to make is solely one: understanding what's behind symbols and behind what appears to be simple rites, old family traditions and postcard landscapes. A place's history, just like that of people, is a voyage through a series of changes, memories, meanings, gestures, feelings and emotions, all condensing much more that a simple trip or a nice bow on a box. There's much more than what we see. L'Italo-Americano wishes you all the warmest Christmas. Simone Schiavinato, Director NEWS & FEATURES TOP STORIES PEOPLE EVENTS

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