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Christmas with Iris Origo

Posted 18th Dec 2018

Merry Christmas Eve one and all! To celebrate the season, here’s a special Christmas Day diary entry from the brilliant Iris Origo.

Taken from War in Val d’Orcia, Origo’s bestselling diaries of WWII in Tuscany, this clear-eyed and prescient entry about Christmas in turbulent times will make you thankful for whatever situation you’re spending the holidays.


The Pope’s Christmas Eve homily had a despairing ring, as if he himself knew all too well that his appeal for peace to men of goodwill would fall upon ears deaf to any interpretation of right and justice but their own. Almost desperate, too, was his appeal for better international understanding, based on a universal human solidarity. But indeed of this there has been (certainly here, and I believe almost everywhere) a reawaken- ing. In church this morning as I looked round I saw, among the usual Christmas congregation from the farms and the fattoria, the large group of refugee children from Genoa and Turin, rosy-cheeked and plump and excited; the Calabrian and Sicilian soldiers who are working in the farms; the Egyptian boy from the G.I.L.E.; all those who have found refuge here—and coming out I felt, in the familiar exchange of Christmas greetings, a bond of deep understanding born of common trouble, anxieties and hopes such as I never have felt before. And in the attitude of the farmers to all the homeless passers-by (whether Italian soldiers or British prisoners, whether Gentile or Jew) there is a spontaneous, unfailing charity and hospitality. Even now that the risks have increased—since the police are supposed to be rounding up the boys of the 1925 class—there is no farm which would refuse them shelter; and today I noticed that each one of the soldiers who are living here was wearing at least one warm garment given o their backs by their hosts.

Yesterday we took a small Christmas tree to the Montepulciano hospital for the sick children; today we had a tree and a party for Benedetta and the refugee children here. The older girls danced and recited, they all sang Stille Nacht and Tu scendi dalle stelle—and Antonio made a magni cent Father Christmas with a owing white beard, fur coat and cossack cap. For an hour or so it seemed like any other Christmas. But then the telephone rang: the Chianciano policeman issued a warning that Adino must report himself tomorrow morning, or the police would come to arrest his father, Gigi. Adino promptly disappears.

Turning on the radio in the evening, we hear of the bombing of Pistoia and Pisa.

Discover more Origo in her bestselling WWII diary War in Val d’Orcia, or the newly-discovered A Chill in the Air.