For members


Italian word of the day: ‘Vigilia’

This one's for everyone who can't wait for Christmas.

Vigilia on a black background with the Italian flag
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Christmas is so close you can smell it – perhaps literally, if you’re in one of the parts of Italy where they celebrate on December 24th, known as la Vigilia di Natale, or simply la Vigilia.

The word comes from the same root that gave us ‘vigil’ and ‘vigilant’ in English, meaning ‘awake’, ‘alert’ or ‘watchful’. In Italian vigilia means ‘eve’, and it carries all the connotations of waiting for something so hard you can’t sleep.

In Italy the Vigilia di Natale marks the end of la novena, the nine days leading up to Christmas when the shepherds travelled to see newborn Jesus, and when traditionally children go house to house in costumes to perform Christmas songs and poems with the promise of a small reward of money or sweets.

Customs vary, but many Catholics abstain from eating meat on Christmas Eve ahead of the holy celebrations – not to mention il cenone (‘the feast’) – on Christmas Day itself. Traditionally the December 24th dinner consists of fish and seafood instead – though with baccalà (salt cod), oysters, clams and eel on the menu, that doesn’t sound like much of a hardship.

Photo: ChiccoDodiFC/DepositPhotos

You may have heard that this marine meal is called the Feast of Seven Fishes, after the seven sacraments or the number of days God took to create the world. In fact you won’t hear it referred to as such in Italy, where the number of dishes is different (nine for the Holy Trinity times three? Thirteen for the 12 Apostles plus Jesus?), or simply too numerous to count. The seven fishy dishes seems to be an invention of Italian-Americans, who probably adapted the old customs from Italy.

Other Christmas Eve celebrations include midnight mass for the faithful, or late-night gift exchanges for the more materially inclined. Tradition has it that Christ was born at midnight between December 24th and 25th, so that’s the time some Italians choose to give their presents.

But it all depends on where you are: in the Dolomites, we hear it’s the custom to ski down the mountains by torchlight to welcome the newborn Christ, while in parts of the south the entire family joins a sort of Nativity procession through the house, with the youngest member of the household carrying a Jesus figurine to the crib. Others just play cards, share stories or enjoy the copious food and drink.

However you’re celebrating, we hope you enjoy a happy – and delicious – Vigilia this year.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

For members


Italian word of the day: ‘Delusione’

We hope this word doesn't disappoint.

Italian word of the day: 'Delusione'

Experiencing a delusione (deh-loo-zee-OH-neh) in Italian may not be pleasant, but it doesn’t mean you need escorting to the psychiatrist’s chair.

That’s because while delusione may look and sound like its English cousin ‘delusion’, the word actually means something quite different: disappointment.

Disappointment Disappointed GIF - Disappointment Disappointed Food Review GIFs

The two nouns actually have the same root in the Latin dēlūsiō, meaning a deceiving or deluding, and delūdō, meaning to deceive, dupe, or mock.

But while the English ‘delusion’ has hewn close to the original Latin meaning over the centuries, delusione at some point branched off to its current, quite different, definition.

There’s not much in the way of information about exactly when and how that happened, but it’s clearly a short associative hop from feeling ‘deceived’ or ‘duped’ by things turning out differently to what you’d expected to feeling ‘disappointed’.

Che delusione.
How disappointing.

La festa era, purtroppo, una grande delusione.
The party unfortunately was a big disappointment.

Mike Ehrmantraut Breaking Bad Che Delusione No Che Vergogna GIF - Disappointment Disappointed Oh No GIFs

The adjective for ‘disappointed’ is deluso for a single masculine subject, changing to delusa/delusi/deluse if the subject being described is feminine singular/masculine plural/feminine plural.

Era delusa da come era venuta la torta.
She was disappointed with how the cake turned out.

Devo dire che siamo davvero delusi dal fatto che siamo stati trattati in questo modo.
I have to say that we’re very disappointed to have been treated this way.

A word you’ll often see used in combination with deluso/a/i/e is rimanere (ree-man-EH-reh): rimanere deluso.

You might correctly recognise rimanere as meaning ‘to remain’, and wonder why we’d use that word here – but rimanere also has an alternative meaning along the lines of ‘to become’, ‘to get’, or simply ‘to be’.

For example, you can rimanere incinta (get pregnant), or rimanere ferito (get hurt or wounded, for example in a car accident).

It’s also very often used with emotions, usually those experienced in the moment rather than long-term ones: you can rimanere sorpreso (be surprised), rimanere triste (be sad), rimanere scioccato (be shocked)… and rimanere deluso (be disappointed).

Sono rimasto molto deluso quando mi ha detto di aver abbandonato la scuola.
I was very disappointed when she told me she had dropped out of school.

Siamo rimasti delusi dalle condizioni della stanza d’albergo al nostro arrivo.
We were disappointed by the condition of the hotel room when we arrived.

With that, we wish you a weekend free of delusioni (disappointments)!

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.