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Be My Italian Valentine!
Part 1: Myth of the Italian Lover
 More of this Feature
• St. Valentine/Vocabulary
 
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"I am always forgetting how to say 'I miss you'. Is it 'Mi manchi'? Any tips on how to remember?"
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Italian lovers are famous throughout history: Paolo and Francesca, the ill-fated pair described in Dante's La Divina Commedia; Romeo e Giulietta (Romeo and Juliet), the two young lovers from Verona immortalized by Shakespeare; and Renzo and Lucia in I Promessi Sposi, written by Alessandro Manzoni from 1825-27, who succeeded in marrying each other only after overcoming many difficulties and obstacles.

In classical history, the Roman holiday Lupercalia was a pagan spring celebration. Priests called luperci participated in ritual sacrifices and fertility rites during the wild, chaotic festivities.

So with all this history of love and romance, spring lust and eros, debauchery and revelry, it would only seem natural that Italy, the purported land of romance, would celebrate Valentine's Day with great passion and joy.

Myth and Reality
It may be disappointing to learn, then, that although Italy may be the country of love and lovers, the holiday is experienced as somewhat foreign, imported from the U.S. just like Halloween and Mother's Day. In Italy il giorno della festa degli innamorati is exclusively a celebration for couples or lovers. Children, family members, and friends do not exchange presents. In recent years some commercialism of the American type has crept in, but there is little of the blatant guilt-inducing displays of Godiva chocolates, sexy lingerie, Valentine's cards, or other smancerie (over-wrought, cloying sentiments).

However, for those who are in love Valentine's Day in Italy is an important one to show their beloved how much they care. In the evening couples usually go to dinner at a pizzeria or ristorante. Depending on the age of the pair, gifts could include red roses or perfume, diamonds, or the famous Baci Perugina. These small, chocolate-covered hazelnuts contain a small slip of paper with a romantic poetic quote in four languages.

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