As part of our Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations we spent a lot of time walking through the city and visiting the piazzas just to see what was happening and to feel like we were a part of the festivities. One night we discovered a beautiful spectacle in Piazza Grande. There were over hundred people of all ages gathered there, mostly families with children. Most of them were holding what looked like large red paper bags. We stood watching for a long time waiting to see what was going to happen. We presumed that soon Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) would be arriving with treats for everyone. We were stunned and delighted to discover something completely different. These “bags” were actually miniature hot air balloons. At the direction of a man with a microphone, everyone lit something like candles that were affixed to the openings of these balloons. As they filled with hot air, they were released and floated luminously up into the night sky.
On New Year’s Eve we went to another piazza (Piazza S. Agostino) where there was a stage with comedy (we were happy that we actually got a couple of the jokes), music and fireworks. There was a huge crowd, and many of the people had the same balloons we saw at Christmas. At midnight these were again set afloat into the night and soared overhead, carrying thoughts of the past year with them.
At one point close to midnight we met up with some of our fellow students from the school. We were cheering and dancing with them and some Italians who were nearby. The man who was next to us generously poured some bubbly drink for each of us in plastic cups he had brought along in a backpack. We’re not sure what was in the bottle, it was probably Prosecco, but we didn’t care, we were glad to take whatever he was offering, it was New Year’s Eve after all! The consumption of alcohol, open flames and fireworks in a public setting (the fireworks were going off all around the crowd) reminded us that this was definitely NOT an American celebration!