Italian expression of the day: ‘San Silvestro’

If you thought today was New Year's Eve in Italy, think again.

Italian expression of the day: 'San Silvestro'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

While English speakers refer to December 31st as the night before the new year begins, in Italy the occasion goes by another name: San Silvestro.

Little is known of Saint Sylvester himself, beyond that he was born in what is now Campania, and died the pope on December 31st. As saints go he’s not one of the biggest, but the timing of his feast day means he’s given his name to the year’s biggest party in Catholic countries including Italy.

Nowadays not many Italians will be thinking of old Sylvester as they crack open the Prosecco tonight, but they’ll almost certainly mention him a few times.

Cosa fai per San Silvestro?
What are you doing for New Year’s Eve?

Yes, what will Italians be doing tonight? A few of the traditions include eating lentils, playing tombola (a kind of bingo), giving and wearing red underwear for luck, and chucking your junk out the window in preparation for new beginnings. As national treasure Totò says in New Year’s Eve comedy The Passionate Thief:

– San Silvestro, roba vecchia, defenestro!
– On New Year’s Eve, out the window old stuff must leave!

There are a few more familiar traditions too, including New Year’s Eve parties (veglioni di Capodanno), fireworks (fuochi d’artificio), counting down to midnight (fare il conto alla rovescia) and cheers-ing (brindare) when it arrives.

Grab a bunch of grapes with your other hand, though: superstition has it that eating 12 grapes, one for each strike of the clock and month of the year, will bring you good luck.

Once you’ve swallowed, it’s time to wish those you’re celebrating with all the best: you can say felice anno nuovo (happy New Year), buon anno, or buon 2022 (that’s due-mila-venti-due)

From us to you: buon anno!

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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.