Christmas on Via Roma

Christmas on Via Roma, the street where we lived in Florence, is celebrated like no other neighborhood where we have ever spent the season. Early in December, trucks deliver numerous terra cotta tubs containing perfectly formed evergreen trees that are carefully tucked against the exterior walls of the shops for blocks around. Once the planters are in place, each tree is decorated with white fairy lights.

Similar white lights are strung across the street high above the pavement and while each block features the same dazzling color, every design is subtly different, so that when you look up and down the street you see a series of swags swaying that are all of a piece yet each is unique.

Individual storefronts are festooned with garlands of flowers and fruit arranged so artfully that they could have been done by the famed Renaissance ceramics workshop of Luca Della Robbia.

Even the street vendors are in sync with the season. The Asian women who usually shake armfuls of shawls at tourists now sell Santa hats with blinking lights or clip-on reindeer horns. I know they sound tacky but even these ornamental items have some class.

Nor is the real reason for Christmas forgotten. Churches give over their altars for what’s called presipio, manger scenes that range in size from a modest square meter to huge displays of carved figurines that go far beyond the traditional manger to include a tableau of the surrounding desert complete with trees, camels and mountains. In addition to these displays in churches, vacant shops are filled with similar scenes staffed by volunteers who accept donations for disabled children.

The only thing that’s missing are the Christmas discounts. By government fiat, prices can’t be slashed until January 7. No matter. Everything is so beautiful, the bargains can wait.

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