Christmas on the Hill 2019

Last Saturday, we got to go to Christmas on the Hill for the first time in several years!

It’s become a much bigger event since the last time we were there. There was a nativity petting zoo, with animals like sheep, llamas, and an adorable donkey who actually wanted everyone to pet him!

We also got to see a reindeer:

I always enjoy walking around The Hill.

The nativity scenes and other store window displays are a favorite thing to see:

We were also really excited to visit the new Piazza Imo…I can’t wait to go back in the spring when the fountain is on!

We took a tour of the Herbaria and learned how soap is made, which was very interesting, and said hello to the store mascot, Soapy:

And we saw Babbo Natale and La Befana:

I love spending an afternoon in such a wonderful local community!

Christmas on The Hill 2013

Today we made our annual trip to The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis to see the nativity scenes, hear La Befana tell her story, and eat salamites. This was an especially good day to be there, because today is the commemoration of Ambrose, the saint for whom the church that is the center of Hill life was named.

This year, while we were at Gelato Di Riso for the La Befana storytelling, we actually bought some gelato. Even though it was incredibly cold today, the gelato was a very welcome treat. I definitely want to go back there in the future (although, perhaps next time it will be when it’s warmer)!

Christmas on the Hill 2011

Today, for the second year in a row, we went to “Christmas on The Hill.” I think it’s safe to say that this has become a new, yearly, family tradition!

One of my favorite parts of Christmas on The Hill is the nativity walk. All of the shops have nativity scenes in their windows, (some have several!), and many of them are from different places around the world. It’s really interesting to see all of the different styles and sizes, and the children loved going from window to window to find all of them.

Another favorite activity, and one that Bunny specifically wanted to do, is touring St. Ambrose Catholic Church. It is a magnificent building, and everything inside, from the ceiling, to the altar, to the organ, is grand. It was interesting comparing it both to our own church, and the Greek Orthodox Church we toured earlier this year.

As part of The Hill tour, led by Joe DeGregorio, (who also does paid tours of The Hill, by appointment, and tells awesome stories!), we learned some about the history of the neighborhood. I didn’t realize that when the area was first settled, the immigrants from Northern Italy, (the predominant settlers of The Hill), and those from Southern Italy didn’t get along. At all. Their dialects were even so different they had a hard time understanding each other! Those differences were resolved, however, as was evidence by the fact that our tour guide, who was awesome, is of Sicilian descent, and obviously has many friends in the neighborhood.

I also learned about some of the differences between the two groups, including that Northern Italians are more known for cream-based sauces on their food, (my favorite kind of Italian food), while Southern Italians are known for the traditional tomato-based sauces we typically think of when we’re talking about Italian food. Northern Italians are also more similar to Northern Europeans, (like my ancestors), while Southern Italians are the stereo-typical “New York Italians” that are portrayed in movies and television.

As a part of the tour of The Hill, we also got to go in the Italia-America Bocce Club. I’ve always been curious what the inside of that establishment looks like, and I have to say, it was nothing like I imagined, although, to be fair, I really had no idea what a bocce club looked like at all! It seemed like a very fun place to get together with friends and play a game!

No visit to Christmas on The Hill would be complete with sampling the salamites, and I finally learned what they are. They’re basically baby salamis, before they’re cured. So, the taste of salami, with the texture of a bratwurst. Delicious!

We stopped at Gelato Di Riso to hear “La Befana” tell her story, and learned a few songs in Italian, including “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The school children from the area are obviously familiar with Italian, as they sang along with no difficulty. Just another charming aspect of life on The Hill!

The children got to cut soap at the Herbaria. They were shocked to learn that you can use plain old cookie cutters for this purpose, although it certainly wouldn’t work on a regular bar of soap. The store smelled wonderful…like mint and lavender. You can smell the soap from several blocks away!

It’s also fun just to look at all of the different buildings and houses in the neighborhood. The Italian pride is very evident everywhere, which is a nice thing to see.

Much as I feel Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, even though I’m not, when we go to Christmas on The Hill, I feel as though I’m Italian for the day, and I have to admit, it’s a very fun feeling!

Christmas School–Epiphany

On Thursday I had to take one last opportunity to add a few special activities to our regular school day, before we said goodbye to the Christmas season.

We started the day with stockings. Because we had spent so much time learning about Christmas in Italy (including the La Befana legend), I thought it would be fun to have a few small things in the stockings to wake up to on Epiphany morning, as Epiphany is the traditional Christmas-time gift-giving day in Italy. Plus, I was able to take advantage of the Target after-Christmas clearance, so it was also an inexpensive surprise!

In school, we took a short break from our regular work to make Epiphany stars. I found patterns for four, five, six and eight point stars, and Turkey and Bunny colored some, covered some in foil, and glittered some others. They’re all different, and all so pretty hanging from the ceiling of the schoolroom!

We dug out our La Befana stick puppets, and Turkey and Bunny took turns telling the legend. It was really interesting to hear how they embellished the story, and just how different their stories were from each other. They both did a really good job of remembering the story, which was good, since it’s already been over a month since we read the legend in the first place! Time sure does go by fast, especially at Christmastime!

We finished the Epiphany segment of our school day by reading The Visit of the Wise Men. This is a nice book from CPH–the story isn’t anything new, but the illustrations are beautiful. I also appreciate that the book gives a fairly realistic look at what kind of men the wise men were (not kings!). It was also a good springboard for discussion about how Epiphany reminds us that Jesus came for *all* people, not only the Jews. I appreciate any Christmas book that doesn’t gloss over the reason baby Jesus was born, but reminds readers (even children), that the Baby in the manger is the same Man who died for each one of us.

Christmas on the Hill

I mentioned that we would be having a field trip related to our “Christmas in Italy” day in school, and today was the day! For the first time, we went to “Christmas on the Hill.” For those unfamiliar with St. Louis, The Hill is a predominately Italian neighborhood on the south side of the city. Both Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola Sr. grew up here–their houses were across the street from each other. It’s a charming neighborhood, filled with restaurants and bakeries, and lots of Italian pride. And at the center of it all is the Catholic parish, St. Ambrose.

We arrived just in time to get some salamites. As best as I can tell, these are basically salami, but served bratwurst-style, on a bun. Even though they weren’t hot (it was cold and *very* windy), they were delicious. Moose really liked his, although he thought it was just a hot dog.

The salamite tent tried its best to blow away, but it was unsuccessful!

Moose doesn’t care what it’s called, he just thinks it’s delicious!

We then got to tour St. Ambrose. It’s a beautiful old church, with high ceilings, lots of artwork, and a beautiful altar. It was also nice and warm! We didn’t get to stay long, as they were preparing for a wedding, but it was really cool to be able to look around for a bit. And yes, there’s an Italian flag flying outside.

One of the big attractions of Christmas on the Hill (aside from the Salamites), is the nativity walk. The shops have beautiful nativity scenes set up in their windows, most of them from Italy. The children were especially excited to look at these, because in school yesterday, we learned that traditionally, Italian families don’t put the Gesù bambino figure in the manger until Christmas Eve. We looked at all the Presepi we could find, but only one of them hadn’t yet included the Infant (and it just happened to by my favorite nativity scene-a Fontanini).

Checking out one of the many nativity scenes.

This nativity scene was made by eighth graders at St. Ambrose school.

Another big attraction was listening to La Befana tell her story. This was done in a gelato shop, and the owners were great with all the children that attended. They had cider to drink before the story, and mini cones after. La Befana herself handed out candy, as well. It was fun to hear the story, told by La Befana “herself,” complete with Italian accent, and to have a chance to ask questions about the story. She also taught us a song about herself, in Italian–I’m sure the children won’t remember it, but it was cool that they had the chance to sing it through a few times. And I think we all remember the last line: “Viva, viva, La Befana!”

We also saw a man roasting chestnuts. Now, this isn’t really new to us–there is always chestnut roasting at Christmas Traditions in St. Charles, MO–but because there wasn’t a huge crowd, he was able to take some time to talk to the children. He explained to them that he was scoring the chestnuts with an “X” so that when they’re roasting, the moisture has a way to get out, lest they explode (or pop, as it says in the song). We also got to watch how he put them in the kettles, but lifting the lid of the kettle with a big stick through its handle, before pouring the chestnuts in. And they sure smelled good!

Of course, no trip to the hill is complete without a visit to Amighetti’s bakery. We brought home a loaf of their delicious bread, and also picked up a couple of deli sandwiches. It’s enough to make you wish you lived there, so you could always have that bread at your disposal! Overall, it was a great day, and I think it will become a new family tradition!

I leave you with some pictures of the Italian pride that is evident all over The Hill (the fire hydrants are my favorite!).

This immigrant statue (right outside the church) reminded me of the Walther statue we saw in Frohna, MO.

Christmas School–Day Five

Buon Natale!

Today we learned about Christmas in Italy. The timing for this was excellent as we’re going on a field trip tomorrow that is related to Christmas in Italy (more on that later). We studied Nativity scenes (Turkey and Bunny thought it was cool that in Italy, Jesus isn’t placed in the manger until Christmas Eve), traditions related to gift-giving (very little Santa, mostly La Befana), special foods (Pizzelles–yum!) and more.

Our main focus of the day was reading the story of “Befana and the Three Wise Men” in The Kingfisher Book of Classic Christmas Stories. I have to admit, this is one of the stranger Christmas legends (a “witch” chooses not to go with the Wise Men in search of the new King, but later regrets it, and tries to find them, but because she’s unsuccessful, is still searching, and leaving gifts at the homes of all children, just in case), but it does get across the point that we should never be too busy for Jesus. We’ll also be encountering La Befana at least twice this Christmas season (possibly both of them this weekend) so it’s good to be familiar with the story.

As we read the La Befana story, Turkey and Bunny re-enacted it with the stick puppets we made today. They had the whole cast of the story–Befana, the three kings, the star of Bethlehem, even the gifts Befana leaves on Epiphany. I found the patterns for them in Celebrate Christmas Around the World. This is one of the best books I have purchased for use in school. There is information on Christmas celebrations in over 20 countries, along with craft activities, games, and recipes. I have used this book every year that we’ve had Christmas school, and I haven’t come close to using everything in it.