December always has been my favorite time of the year. When I was young, I loved driving around after dinner with my parents looking at Christmas lights. I loved setting up our Christmas tree, watching my father wrap the lights around the prickly branches (though I’m not sure he loved this as much as I did, as inevitably one of the strands wouldn’t light up, which called for an after-dinner trip to CVS and a re-do). I didn’t mind crowded malls, and I loved Christmas shopping.
Four years ago, we celebrated our first Christmas in Cortina, thousands of miles away from our families and friends and old Christmas traditions. It was, and still is, almost impossible to be sad about this, though, because Cortina takes the song “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” very seriously.
Every winter, my husband remarks that we’re “living in a snow globe.” And he’s right: We’re in a picture-perfect ski town smack dab in the middle of the Dolomites.
I can see the snow globe on the shelf in the store: There is a little town that is lit up for Christmas, and the mountains rise up around the town, and a little skier is careening down the side of the highest peak. Only in this snow globe, the skier looks more like a chinchilla.
In Cortina in December, they don’t do “see and be seen” but “ski and be seen.” Rather than wearing practical Patagonia ski jackets, the Italians who come to Cortina in the winter prefer to wear fur — hats, scarves, head wraps, gloves, jackets — which is why it appears that there are a bunch of small animals whizzing down the mountain.
When you shake a snow globe, a swirl of glittery snow rises and falls back down around the tiny town inside. In the Cortina snow globe, that snow is prosecco bubbles. The prosecco consumption probably doubles in December. It’s perfectly normal to see people having a glass at 10 a.m. or at lunch time or during a ski run or at aperitivo, because in December, there is never an inappropriate time to drink prosecco.
This snow globe has no mall Santa Claus, no Starbucks holiday cups and no “best deal EVER” signs in the store window. Instead, there are Krampus, Alpine “monsters” who come out Dec. 5 to scare children into being good for Christmas, and vin brulé, which is a hot, spiced wine. There also are zero sales, because in Italy, they only have sales twice per year, in January and July when no one needs to buy anything.
No one in Cortina gets the Christmas blues, and no one runs around in a frenzy of stressed-out holiday shopping (probably because they’ve been drinking prosecco). There isn’t an emphasis on the perfect gift or the perfect appetizer for your holiday party or even the perfect centerpiece for Christmas Eve dinner.
But there is an emphasis on spending time with loved ones, enjoying a delicious meal together or just sitting around chatting (and drinking prosecco, of course).
People always ask us if we’re coming home for Christmas. No, because every December, we are most definitely in the right place.
Sophie Dingle is a freelance writer living in Cortina, Italy, where her husband and Steamboat native, Ryan, plays professional ice hockey. While in Italy, she loves to eat, cook, explore and drink red wine. You can follow her adventures online at www.sophiedingle.blogspot.com.