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  • Last Minute Gifts for Italians and Italophiles
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    DECEMBER 18, 2005 Didn't finish your holiday shopping? No worries. If you're searching for the perfect present for the paesani on your list, I can offer a few ideas. Here goes:

    Baskets of joy: During the holidays, Italians often exchange gift baskets filled with wine and delicious treats like struffoli (honey balls) or biscotti. I would suggest making a theme basket. For instance, get a small colander and fill it with your favorite types of pasta, some breadsticks and a cheese grater. Or stuff a basket with a bottle each of red and white wine, taralli, and dried sausages. I've packed up a basket with fine Italian cheeses and a few loaves of Italian bread with a cheese spreader and tray. If you opt for a cheese basket with bread, make sure you are able to bring it right over to the recipient so everything is fresh on arrival. Really, you could come up with a million different Italian food baskets. As I've said before, you're only limited by your imagination.

    Bella musica: Help set the mood by bringing a CD of Italian classics to the holiday party hostess. Venetian Giada Valenti's latest CD is a great one. The singer, who recently moved to New York, lends a bluesy vibe to traditional songs like Caruso and Quando, Quando (Tell Me When). At most major music stores, you can also find compilations of Italian songs sung by natives like Massimo Ranieri or Italian Americans like Frank Sinatra. Take your pick. The best part? A CD is a gift for everyone at the party, not just the hostess.

    B-I-N-G-O: Traditionally, Italians keep awake until midnight on Christmas and New Year's Eve by playing tombola, their version of bingo, to pass the time. This is another gift that keeps on giving because families can play the game long after the holidays. Tombola at least the Neapolitan version is particularly entertaining because each number is represented by images from the religious (13 is Sant' Antonio) to the raunchy (21 is la donna nuda or the naked woman). Those who truly get Neapolitan culture will love this game for its ability to flaunt the absurd but wonderful contradictions of Napoli and its people. Tombola Napoletana is available in many Italian specialty stores in the closest Little Italy you can find. High rollers can play for quarters and everyone else can play for beans like we do at my house. The beans also serve as markers for your tombola card.

    A little surprise: My first instinct is to suggest getting chocolate Kinder eggs for the children on your list. The milk chocolate eggs house a little toy a tiny airplane or figurine that sometimes requires minor assembly. I still have almost all of the egg toys I've ever gotten since my first trip to Italy at two years old. You'll find Kinder eggs all over Europe and in any Italian or gourmet specialty store that smuggles them into the United States. But the FDA doesn't allow them to be sold in the States because I believe the toy is considered a choking hazard. The Wall Street Journal even did a story about it a couple of years ago. If you can't get to Italy to buy an egg and don't know any smugglers (just kidding!), then I would suggest heading to the local bookstore. There, you'll find Italian picture dictionaries or tapes of Italian children's songs designed to help kids learn the language. Education, after all, is one of the best gifts we can bestow on the next generation. Maybe even better than chocolate!

    Of course, you should also consider turning to the ItaliansRus store for your shopping needs. There, you'll find posters, books and novelty items including Kiss Me I'm Italian shirts and apron.

    But whatever you end up giving and getting, remember that the holidays are a time for family and togetherness. And Italians the world over will tell you that the people in their lives are the most important gift God has given them. Buone feste!

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