If you're planning to spend Christmas in Italy or want to bring some Italian holiday cheer into your home, read on for a guide to common Christmas traditions in Italy.
Italians have many Christmas traditions as this is one of the most important holidays in their culture. For thousands of years, Italians have celebrated the season with a variety of customs and traditions. The traditions are unique to this culture and are passed down from generation to generation.
- How do they celebrate Christmas in Italy?
- December 6th in Italy
- The immaculate conception
- December 24 Christmas Eve in Italy
- December 25 Christmas Day in Italy
- December 26 Santo Stefano
- December 31 New Years' Eve in Italy
- January 6- The Epiphany in Italy
- Start with the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve
- Christmas Italian Dinner
- Panettone, a sweet bread loaf studded with raisins and candied fruit, is a popular holiday dessert
- Gifts are often exchanged on Epiphany, which falls on January 6th
- Many Italians celebrate La Befana, a kindly old woman who brings gifts to children on Epiphany Eve
- Nativity scenes are popular decorations in Italian homes during the holidays
- Italian Christmas Markets
- What desserts are served on Christmas in Italy?
- How to say Merry Christmas in Italian?
- Where is the best place to spend Christmas in Italy?
- Christmas in Italy for Kids
How do they celebrate Christmas in Italy?
Italy starts to prepare for Christmas in early December. Italian streets are often decorated with colorful lights and decorations, while some cities also host Christmas markets where people can buy food, decorations, and gifts.
December 6th in Italy
On the 6th of December, some Catholics celebrate St. Nicholas Day or La Festa di San Nicola which is a religious celebration honoring Saint Nicholas. In some regions like Puglia, it is celebrated with a traditional cake called "Pupi di Natale" which is made of almond paste and chocolate.
The immaculate conception
The Christmas season begins with this important event, the Immaculate Conception. This is celebrated on December 8th and commemorates the conception of Mary without any stain of original sin by her mother, St. Anne. It marks the beginning of the Christmas season.
Typically on this day, churches will hold special masses and processions, while families gather together to enjoy a festive dinner. Many people even attend special events such as concerts or plays in honor of this event.
December 24 Christmas Eve in Italy
The evening before Christmas, Italians celebrate the vigil of Natale or La Vigilia di Natale. This is an important holiday dinner where families gather to eat a traditional seven-course fish dinner. The Feast of the Seven Fishes (or Festa dei Sette Pesci) is most popular in Southern Italy. After dinner, it’s time for the exchange of gifts.
December 25 Christmas Day in Italy
On the morning of December 25, most Italians go to church to celebrate Christmas Mass. Afterward, they typically go home and have a big family dinner where they enjoy traditional dishes such as roast pork, lasagna, and more.
At night, Italians often gather around the presepio or nativity scene which is typically displayed in churches and homes. The meaning of this tradition is to remember Jesus’ birth and the importance of humility.
December 26 Santo Stefano
In Italy, the day after Christmas Day is celebrated as Santo Stefano (St. Stephen) and is once again a national holiday.
Santo Stefano, or St. Stephen's Day, is a day that commemorates the feast day of Saint Stephen. Though the tradition only started in 1949, it is now widely celebrated as a day of rest and recovery from the previous night's feasting!
December 31 New Years' Eve in Italy
New Year’s Eve is known as La Festa di San Silvestro and is a time for celebration with family and friends. At midnight, Italians gather around the TV to watch Il Concerto di Capodanno – a televised music concert – and sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’. Fireworks are often set off to commemorate the start of a new year.
January 6- The Epiphany in Italy
As Christmas ends, Italians also have another important tradition which is the Epiphany or La Festa dell'Epifania on January 6th. During this holiday, people celebrate the visit of the Three Wise Men who brought gifts to baby Jesus.
Start with the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve
There's no wrong way to celebrate Christmas, but if you want to do it the Anthony Bourdain way, then you start with the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. This traditional Italian meal is a seafood lover's paradise, featuring seven different seafood dishes.
And while the specific seafood can vary, some of the most common include baccalà (salted cod), baccalà al forno, pasta con le sarde, fried smelts, and spaghetti with lobster. Even if you're not Italian, this feast is a delicious way to celebrate the holiday season.
Christmas Italian Dinner
Typical Italian Christmas dinner dishes are as diverse as the regions of Italy itself. Depending on where you're dining, you could eat anything from lasagna to roast pork and roasted chestnuts. And no Italian Christmas dinner is complete without some traditional desserts like panettone (a type of sweet bread) or pandoro (a star-shaped cake).
For many Italians, the traditional Christmas meal is an important part of their holiday festivities. It is a time to enjoy delicious food and good company. The meal is typically served on Christmas Day, and it often includes dishes like roasted meats, vegetables, and pasta. Roasted meats are a traditional favorite, and they are often served with vegetables and pasta.
Panettone, a sweet bread loaf studded with raisins and candied fruit, is a popular holiday dessert
Panettone is a type of sweet bread loaf that is popular around the holidays. It is typically studded with raisins and candied fruit and has a soft, fluffy texture. Panettone is believed to have originated in Italy and is often served as a dessert or breakfast food.
While it can be difficult to find panettone outside of Italy, it is becoming more popular in other parts of the world as people become more familiar with Italian cuisine. If you're looking for a unique and festive holiday dessert, panettone is definitely worth seeking out.
Gifts are often exchanged on Epiphany, which falls on January 6th
For many people, the holiday season is a time for giving and receiving gifts. However, the tradition of exchanging gifts actually dates back much further than Christmas. In fact, one of the oldest gift-giving traditions is Epiphany, which is celebrated on January 6th.
Epiphany marks the day when the Three Kings arrived in Bethlehem to bring gifts to the baby Jesus. Today, Epiphany is still celebrated in many countries around the world, and gifts are often exchanged on this day.
In some parts of Europe, Epiphany is even more important than Christmas. So if you're looking for an excuse to exchange gifts with your friends and family, don't forget about Epiphany!
Many Italians celebrate La Befana, a kindly old woman who brings gifts to children on Epiphany Eve
La Befana is a kindly old woman who brings gifts to children on Epiphany Eve, and she is celebrated by many Italians. The tradition of La Befana dates back to ancient Rome when it was believed that the goddess Janus bestowed gifts on those who had been good during the year.
In medieval times, the story of La Befana became entwined with that of the Three Kings, and she came to be seen as a kind of magical guide who led them to the infant Jesus.
Today, children leave out shoes or stockings for La Befana to fill with candy and small toys, and she is often depicted riding a broomstick through the night sky. For many Italians, La Befana is an essential part of the holiday season.
La Befana typically occurs on January 6th and children wake up to gifts from this witch. When I was little (Gabby) I always looked forward to this date after Christmas because as a child, it was always so exciting to see what other surprise present I got.
Nativity scenes are popular decorations in Italian homes during the holidays
Nativity scenes are popular decorations in Italian homes during the holidays. Often made of wood, these hand-crafted pieces depict the birth of Jesus Christ, complete with the manger, shepherds, and wise men.
For many Italians, the nativity scene is a treasured family heirloom, passed down from generation to generation. While the nativity scene is traditionally associated with Christmas, it can also be found on display during the Epiphany celebration in January.
In Italy, they call this a Presepe, which is an Italian Nativity scene, typically made of paper mache or plaster and housed in a wooden box.
In some Italian homes, the presepe is brought out only once a year on Christmas Eve, serving as a reminder that this special night marks the birth of Jesus.
Presepe are often given as gifts between friends and family during the holiday season, making them a meaningful way to spread festive cheer.
Italian Christmas Markets
Italian Christmas markets, or mercatini di Natale, are a popular way to get into the holiday spirit. These outdoor markets, which are typically held in town squares and churches, feature vendors selling traditional handmade crafts and decorations.
From jewelry and pottery to ceramic figurines and nativity scenes, Italian Christmas markets offer a wide variety of unique and beautiful items.
What desserts are served on Christmas in Italy?
On Christmas in Italy, many traditional desserts are served. Panettone is a sweet bread made with dried fruit and often filled with custard or chocolate, while pandoro is an Italian Christmas cake decorated with sugar.
Torrone, a type of nougat candy made from honey and egg whites, is also popular during the holiday season.
Other popular Italian Christmas desserts include pignolata, struffoli and zuccotto. All of these treats can be enjoyed with a glass of sweet vin santo, an Italian dessert wine.
How to say Merry Christmas in Italian?
Merry Christmas in Italian is “Buon Natale.” This phrase is typically used to wish someone a happy and joyful holiday season. You may also see the phrase “Auguri di Buon Natale,” which means “Best wishes for a Merry Christmas.”
In Italy, it is also common to say “Felice Anno Nuovo,” which translates to “Happy New Year.” This phrase is often used alongside Buon Natale to wish someone a joyful holiday season and a happy start to the new year.
Where is the best place to spend Christmas in Italy?
In my opinion, the best place to spend Christmas in Italy is Rome. The Eternal City is home to some of the most iconic Christmas celebrations in the world, including live music, festive decorations, and delicious food.
Rome's Piazza Navona is a popular spot for festivities during the holidays. Here you can find an outdoor ice skating rink and vibrant market stalls selling handmade gifts and traditional Italian treats.
Rome's Christmas markets are also worth a visit, where you can find local artisans selling handmade nativity scenes and decorations. There are even outdoor concerts featuring traditional Italian music to get everyone in the holiday spirit.
However, all over Italy there are other amazing spots to celebrate Christmas. I also like Aosta Valley, in the northern part of Italy, for its winter wonderland atmosphere and stunning mountain views.
Other great Christmas destinations in Italy are Milan, Verona, and Naples. Each of these cities has its own unique traditions and activities to offer during the holiday season.
Christmas in Italy for Kids
Christmas in Italy is a magical time for kids as well. There are plenty of fun activities and attractions that cater to children during the holiday season, from outdoor ice skating rinks to pony rides at the markets.
Children can also spot Santa Claus making his rounds on Christmas Eve, accompanied by other characters such as elves and angels. There are usually fireworks displays to mark the special night and lots of traditional Italian treats for everyone to enjoy.
If you're looking for a unique experience, consider taking a trip on Italy's Christmas Express or Ferrovia di Natale. This festive train ride takes passengers through some of the country's most stunning landscapes while carolers sing traditional Christmas songs.
Although Christmas is celebrated by Christians all over the world, there are some uniquely Italian traditions that set the holiday apart from others.
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