On December 20 Brian and I ventured in faith “to boldly go where no man has gone before” (a la a certain inter-planetary voyager). Last Christmas season, the mere mention of planning a Christmas Tea for neighbors received a hearty rejection from my language tutor and other Italians as being culturally infeasible. “It’s just not done” they said: in other words, “Do as the Romans do” translates as “Just DON’T”. Then, Brian’s Dad sadly passed away that Christmas week and it became clear that such a social activity was not in God’s plans. Then this year, God put it on my heart with even more motivation, being so burdened to reach out to my neighbors. So we culturally adapted the concept to be more appropriate: “Natale a Casa”: a sort of Christmas theme cocktail party with a purpose. We really wanted to gather in our neighbors for a warm, fun time and to share with them what Christmas means to us. I made up invitations, ran them by one of my English students for correction, a charming, cultured Roman lady, who reacted with: “I can say they’ve never done this before, but why not be the first?” Who knew a quaint but common Anglo-Saxon custom could cause such a stir?? The fact is most Italians in metro areas lead very isolated lives; great value is placed on family ties and so there’s very little socializing outside the family at holiday time.
But we thought: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. We put invitations in all the mail boxes of our neighbors, we planned, and we prayed. One by one the RSVP’s came in. Some expressed astonishment and some expressed genuine regret at having another obligation. Everyone was in favor of such an “unusual” gesture. The moment arrived, and so did 15 people! Turns out most of the residents in our building have lived here for at least 20 years, and not once have they come together. But we gathered, made acquaintance, ate, toasted in Christmas, laughed, reminisced, and Brian shared a brief message from Scripture on the meaning of Christmas. Warm words were exchanged and sincere appreciation for this experience. They concurred that it shouldn’t be the last! We made new friends and felt truly welcomed, and so grateful for the arms of God which are always open wide.