Christmas Day dawns quite unceremoniously in Cervinia, nestled in the outstretched arms of the Italian Alps. While this quaint ski-town is bedecked with sparking white lights, and the odd decorative reindeer, the shops will be open today and people shall go about their business with, apparently, scant regard to the occasion.
This was the first year the kids have openly acknowledged us as Santa 1 and Santa 2. But, they still wanted stockings (which we told them they weren’t getting for reasons of logistics) and a sense of seasonal specialness. The kids went to bed last night with a little less wide-eyed wonder, remarking that it doesn’t feel like Christmas. Happier this morning, waking up to the surprise of secretly packed stockings at the end of their beds.
It is a lesson about the value of rituals, and the feelings of well-being they give us. Rituals matter far more than beliefs in creating a sense of place and a sense of belonging. In my pursuit of intellectual honesty, it is perhaps worth remembering that.
Still, here we are in this beautiful place, doing beautiful things. The scenery is spectacular. The village is covered in snow, which made arriving in our heavy cars without snow chains a somewhat farcical event. The kids are caught in wonder, and immediately launch into snowball fights and snow cave making. The food is, as one would expect, simply gorgeous. We eat “typical products” (like cheese and smoked meats) by the bucketful. For dinner one night we try a fondue specialist. Yes, even with the dairy allergic son. He gets to cook his own steak on a sizzler, declares this his favourite restaurant. Excellent it was too.
To get to the ski-fields, we have to take a gondola up out of the village, over the first range of peaks and onto the mountain itself, where sunlight dances off the freshly ploughed, brilliantly white snow. Above us, the backside of the Matterhorn, Toblerone triangular all the same, rises into the bluest of skies, and just across the saddle of sharp peaks criss-crossed with ski lifts lies Switzerland. All across the horizon, a sea of mountain peaks shimmer in the haze. It is unbelievably picturesque.
I am most definitely a beginner skier, and it is only on day three when I finally get the hang of it enough that a glimmer of pleasure overtakes the abject terror. This is, of course, the moment I take a spectacularly inelegant tumble off a ski lift and twist my knee in a direction it definitely wasn’t designed for. And that’s me, done for the moment, three days into a ten-day holiday in the snow. So much for improving my rather shaky skills. On the upside, I got attended to by the Italian Red Cross, and got a ride on a skidoo down the mountain – siren going all the way.
Today, Christmas Day, we are having lunch at a restaurant that is only accessible if I ski in. It is going to be interesting. Let’s hope the over-priced knee brace works, and I haven’t forgotten how to turn. Snow ploughing down the mountain is going to be a painful endeavour to say the least.
Even without skiing, we are here with friends who are almost family, catching up on years of distance, sharing old memories and making new ones. The kids form vibrant friendships, with giggles that overtake restaurants and dare my kids down slopes bigger and faster than they could have imagined possible. And to me, this is what the spirit of Christmas is really all about – making time in our busy lives for family, friends and the small rituals that anchor us in our worlds.
Merry Christmas, everyone.