A Calabrian Christmas: Strega Nona's Gift by Tomie DePaola
EVERYONE IN THE LITTLE VILLAGE IN CALABRIA, INCLUDING STREGA NONA, HAD BEEN BUSY IN THEIR KITCHENS AND AT THEIR TABLES SINCE THE MONTH OF DECEMBER BEGAN.
FIRST IT WAS THE FESTIVAL OF ST. NICHOLO--ST. NICHOLAS--ON DECEMBER 6. ON DECEMBER 6, THE CHILDREN GOT TO CHOSE THE FOOD FOR THE FEAST BECAUSE SAN NICOLO WAS SAID TO LOVE CHILDREN.
But no sooner are the crumbs from St. Nicholas's Day gone than the famous cooks of the town start preparing for Santa Lucia's Day. Strega Nona keeps Big Anthony busy, fetching and carrying, as she cooks up a storm in her house on the hill. Down in the village Papa Bambo and his daughter Bambolina are dusty with flour as they prepare the special goodies for the upcoming festivals in their bakery.
And then it is Christmas Eve, time for La Vigilia, where no one eats until after the midnight mass that welcomes Christmas. Big Anthony and Strega Nona prepare the codfish for the Feast of the Seven Fishes and the singing Zampognari, the shepherds from Abruzzi, climb the hill to Strega Nona's little house for her famous feast and to welcome the big day with heavenly music.
Big Anthony manages to stay out of trouble, even on St. Sylvestro's Night on December 31. He asks permission to go down to the bonfire in the village, but even then Strega Nona has to warn him about the customs of New Year's Eve:
"Watch out! People throw old stuff out windows. Senora Anita threw her old stove out last year!
Oh, and don't forget to wear your red underwear! It brings luck!"
This year Big Anthony makes it goof-free until the eve of the Feast of Ephiphia, the night that the animals can speak to each other. True to the custom, Strega Nona prepares a delicious-looking dish in her magic pasta pot for her favorite, Senora Goat, and asks Big Anthony to carry it carefully out to her just before midnight.
"I'll just take a tiny taste," Big Anthony tells himself.
Soon, Santo Cielo! It was all gone."
Senora Goat is not pleased with Anthony's substitution of ordinary hay and oats, and in revenge, she eats most of Big Anthony's warm blanket for dessert. Anthony spends a chilly and guilty night, shivering and having strange dreams filled with phantasmic foods. Will Big Anthony's crime go unrevealed? How will he make it up to Senora Goat and to Strega Nona on the final day of the holiday season?
A new Strega Nona book from the Caldecott and Newberry-winning author and artist Tomie de Paola is indeed a Christmas gift for us all. De Paola still has his artistic gifts, and his latest, Strega Nona's Gift (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2011) has been welcomed by reviewers and readers alike for the holiday season. De Paola adds an appendix with additional information about Italian holiday customs, and Publishers Weekly takes note, saying "DePaola delivers a hearty sampler of Italian holiday traditions and seasonal cuisine."
Pair this one with De Paola's wonderful Merry Christmas, Strega Nona for a magical storytime. As Strega Nona says in that one,
CHRISTMAS HAS A MAGIC OF ITS OWN!