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Italian Winter Words

Winter vocab in Italy, as in many other countries of the northern hemisphere, is inextricably related to the cold, often cloudy, snowy weather (although it is less and less snowy these days), and to the holidays. Let’s take a look at some key words for winter survival.


Freddo, Casa, Neve, Hygge

Winter in Italy can have different flavors, depending on where you live. Winters in the north are generally freddi (cold), grigi (gray), and not particularly piovosi (rainy). You see la neve (snow) if you live in the mountains and occasionally—and decreasingly, because of global warming—in the plains. Cities almost never get real snow though. When it happens, it makes the headlines and gains an almost legendary status, like la nevicata di febbraio 2012 or la grande nevicata dell ’85. Snow days are very unusual and often say more about the failure to get ready and organized than about the actual amount of snow. Winters in Southern Italy are generally warmer, and the sun does not really disappear. Around Christmas or New Year’s Eve Day, if it’s nice and sunny, it’s not unusual to spend a day strolling the beach and being baciati da sole (kissed by the sun) in Sorrento or in Catania. But winter is, by definition, the season in which people spend more time inside, at home. And in recent years, the term hygge (a Danish and Norwegian concept that means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with your loved ones) appeared in the Italian language. No one really knows how to pronounce it and you’ll hear innumerable variations. There also are some close Italian variants to the concept, but none of them really quite hits the point; benessere and felicità are too broad, and calore domestico is more specific, but maybe too much. Since you’d need a whole sentence to explain it—la sensazione di calore e appagamento che nasce da piccole cose condivise con le persone amate— you’re better off just going for the Nordic term!



Babbo Natale, Elfi, and Befane

While weather-related terms change and get more and more specific as people become more and more obsessed with weather—and, rightfully, concerned about the changing climate—holiday vocab has a reassuring stability, with Santa, his helpers, and the whole holiday crew pretty much unchanged in the last decades. Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) is actually a pretty recent addition to the Italian tradition, at least in historical terms. As with every modern version of Santa, the concept originated from Saint Nicholas, but it is very secularized, to the point that it is at times criticized by some Catholic authorities. Christmas in general has come to have a less and less religious meaning—too commercial a meaning, according to some—although it remains one of the most important celebrations for Christians in Italy, as everywhere else. Anyway, until not long ago, it was Gesù Bambino (Baby Jesus) who brought presents, though nowadays it is most often Babbo Natale riding his slitta pulled by a bunch of renne. I doni, or i regali (gifts) are assembled and wrapped by Father Christmas’s tireless helpers, gli elfi. Another key figure of the Italian holidays is la Befana, the friendly, broomstick-riding old lady who brings treats to kids on the Epifania (January 6). And then, of course, there’s all the food-related holiday vocab, but that would be an endless list to begin. So, let’s stick to the classics: pandoro and panettone, which conclude every meal shared with extended family and friends around December and January. Finally, let’s not forget good manners: buone feste e felice anno nuovo a tutti!


By Claudia Quesito


Also read:

Italian Christmas Traditions (Tradizioni Natalizie Italiane)

Italian Fall Traditions


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