Christmas In Italy Facts: Why An Italian Christmas Makes An Impression

Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason
Jan 24, 2024 By Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason
Originally Published on Dec 01, 2021
Christmas in Italy facts highlight the importance of Saint Francis and Santa Lucia.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 10.6 Min

Christmas Day is celebrated all around the world on December 25th every year, to mark the birth of the father of Christianity, Jesus Christ.

While celebrations in the United States may start from mid-December, Italians have their own time in which they start celebrations. In Italy, Christmas holidays begin on December 8th every year, which marks the day of Immaculate Conception.

This day is celebrated with a feast and many people all around the country put up their Christmas decorations, like the Christmas tree, the Ceppo, and nativity scenes in their homes. We also see the start of the Christmas markets as they start to pop up all around the country after this day. The holiday season ends in Italy on January 6th, on Epiphany, which is a day to celebrate the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ.

Although it does not snow in several parts of Italy, that still does not stop the people from bedecking every piazza and every corner of their country with Christmas decorations and Christmas lights. You can find decorated Christmas trees on every piazza in celebration of this holy religious festival. Due to this long holiday season, which does not just include the Christmas festival, but includes days long celebrations of various Christmas festivities, many people greet each other with ‘buone feste’ during this period, which can be translated to ‘happy holidays’.

After reading about Christmas in Italy facts, also check out facts about German Christmas symbols and the origin of Christmas colors.

Christmas Traditions In Italy

Just like in most European countries, Italy also has its own traditional ways of celebrating every festival. Likewise, even Christmas is not an exception to that tradition.

Christmas celebrations in Italy last for almost a month, starting from December 8th, going all the way through Christmas, New Year, and ending with Epiphany. One of the most traditional Christmas festivities, which originated in Naples, Italy is the handmade art of nativity scenes. These depict handmade figures of baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, along with many different settings which may include other characters from the Bible.

Nativity scenes are major attractions and can be found in every home and even in public places like Christmas markets.

Another important tradition that can be found only in Italy is bagpipe players, or zampognari. These people are known to dress up traditionally as shepherds, in thick woolen clothing, and climb down mountains playing Christmas carols or Christmas music on their bagpipes. Today, one can enjoy the music of bagpipes in many marketplaces, or piazzas, where the zampognari plays this melodic instrument during the day. This tradition is said to hail mainly from southern Italy.

One of the Christmas traditions which can be seen in many rural places in Italy happens during Novena, or the nine-day period leading up to Christmas. During this time, many children dress up as shepherds and go from house to house, singing Christmas carols in the evening.

On Christmas Eve, many people gather in Saint Peter’s Square for midnight mass in the Vatican city to see the Pope and participate in festivities there. This midnight mass, conducted by the Pope, is telecast live in Saint Peter’s Square for everyone to watch. Other people visit their nearest churches to attend midnight mass, after having a feast of various fish delicacies. Church bells are a very common tradition all around the country, which are rung at midnight in every church to mark the birth of baby Jesus Christ. Also, on this day, Babbo Natale, or the Italian Santa Claus or Father Christmas, is said to bring gifts to children who have been good throughout the year. In northern Italy, many people celebrate the birth of baby Jesus by lighting torches and carrying them while skiing down snowy mountains of the Italian Alps.

Although Babbo Natale is a recognized bearer of gifts for Italian children, most people celebrate the exchanging of gifts on the last day of the holiday season, that is, January 6th, or the day of Epiphany. It is said that on this day, La Befana, who is an old lady and a witch, brings gifts and sweets to children who have behaved nicely throughout the year. To those who have been bad, she gives coal. These gifts are collected in socks which are hung around the Christmas tree, just like how Santa Claus brings them. The name La Befana literally translates to ‘the good witch’ in English. La Befana is often depicted as a stout old lady with a hooked nose like a witch, but a kind face of a grandmother who holds or flies on a broom. Close family members generally gift each other on the last day of the holiday season.

Christmas Decorations In Italy

One of the major tourist attractions is nativity scenes which one can see in every house, every church, and several public places like Christmas markets and piazzas. The artistic tradition of the nativity scene is said to have originated in Naples, which is a city in southern Italy.

The nativity scene mainly depicts handmade objects, or figurines of baby Jesus, Joseph, and Mary, and is also known as prescepi in Italian. Sometimes, these nativity scenes can be so elaborate that they depict the entire town of Bethlehem, where Jesus Christ was born. Naples is a major attraction for nativity scenes, as many people who have been living there for ages practiced this artisanal tradition for generations. Further, Rome has an annual exhibition for nativity scenes, in which one can see more than 100 different styles of nativity scenes depicted by various artisans. Nowadays, some even add modern twists to this tradition by adding figures of celebrities, politicians, and famous people to the mix.

Inside many households, people erect a ceppo, which is a pyramid-shaped wooden frame, which has shelves on various levels. Most of the time, the lowest shelf contains a nativity scene, and the upper shelves are decorated with neatly arranged things like fruits and candies. This ceppo is generally topped with a small fairy doll or a star at the tip and is decorated with candles or lights on the sides.

Many people also keep elaborately decorated Christmas trees inside their homes or in their front yards to add cheerfulness to the festive season. Christmas in Italy is like a procession of lights and celebration in every corner, with vendors selling you their local delicacies which are absolutely delicious. You can turn every corner to find the Christmas spirit, not letting you have even a moment of sorrow or sadness.

Christmas Food In Italy

Italians are very attentive to what they eat and are heavy eaters who can sit at a table for hours on end, indulging in gossip, conversations, and intricate delicacies. Christmas is the time for doing just that.

Christmas in Italy brings about the gathering of close Italian families and hours spent at the table with lots of things to talk about and lots of food to eat.

On Christmas Eve, the traditional Italian Christmas food does not contain any meat. Rather, this meal contains fish or vegetables because of the belief of ‘eating lean’ on the night of Christmas Eve in order to purify your body. In southern Italy, many people prefer to eat meals made from eels while northern Italians prefer sea food like lobster.

Northern Italians prefer to eat anchovies in pasta, mainly lasagna. One of the most famous traditions, which is probably more famous in the USA rather than Italy, is the feast of seven fishes. It is a tradition which was formed by Italian immigrant families who were living in the USA, wherein you eat seven different types of fish for dinner on Christmas Eve. Although this tradition is practiced a lot in the USA, it can also be seen commonly in Italy, where families tend to eat seven or even more than seven types of fish in one night.

On Christmas Day, lunch is a big feast that can last for more than five to six hours, where family members gather to eat food which can span over six to seven courses. This meal is called ‘cenone’, or the big dinner in English. This meal contains various courses which include a charcuterie, various entrees, fine Italian cheeses, and more. One of the main ingredients for this meal is meat, especially dried and cured meat which is served with pasta at times.

For desserts, Italians make a special cake for Christmas called Panettone, which is made from dried fruits and raisins. In Rome, a spicy nut pastry called mostaccioli is in demand during Christmas, along with Pezzetti coffee, which is famous in Rome. In Sienna, one can find a dessert of cookies, which is decorated with images of houses, called Cavallucci.

At Christmas, Italians like to enjoy sweet treats.

Christmas Markets In Italy

One of the main attractions of Christmas in Italy is the markets which form during the Christmas period. These markets sell various goods like local crafts; Christmas candies and sweets; regional, local and seasonal food; souvenirs; traditional Christmas gifts; and more.

These markets generally are set up at the start of the holiday season and stay until it ends. There are places that are quite famous for their sprawling, brightly lit markets in various Italian cities. Many markets also offer performances from various artists, busking along merrily with tourists and citizens alike.

In the city of Bolzano, the area around the Piazza Walther offers the largest of Italy’s Christmas markets. Small wooden huts with vendors selling Christmas gifts, sweets, and various commodities offer a very cozy experience at Christmas time. These huts are usually decorated with fairy lights, candles, and lamps, giving them a very bright and cheerful vibe.

Piazza Castello in Milan is surrounded by various Christmas markets, one of them being called ‘Oh Bej! Oh Bej!’ which is one of the oldest markets in Italy. It has been said to be there since 1510 and offers a choice of more than 300 stalls to choose from.

In the city of Rome, the Piazza Navona is famously known for its three beautiful fountains. During Christmas, this piazza is surrounded by various Christmas market stalls and booths. This Christmas market is also known for having a lot of street artists and performers, who put up shows like acrobatics, playing the bagpipe, and singing along to Christmas tunes. This market offers various types of sweets, candies, and Christmas gifts to give to your family, children, and friends.

Merano in South Tyrol is known as a city of relaxation in Italy. During Christmas, the whole town is decorated with lights to celebrate the Christmas spirit. This town also offers a Christmas market situated in the town’s square, which offers its visitors beautiful shows of figure ice skating. You can also try your hand at ice skating if you wish to do so!

Taormina is a small hilltop town in Sicily, which is the best place for people who prefer milder temperatures during Christmas. This town holds small concerts, exhibitions, and nativity scenes which attract a lot of tourists to this small town during Christmas. The Christmas market offers a variety of local handicraft products, local delicacies like Sicilian cakes, and more.

Alternative Way To Celebrate Christmas In Italy

Whether you are in Italy as a tourist or as a citizen, celebrating Christmas by getting involved with these country-wide celebrations will definitely give you a lot of joy and happiness. During the month-long holiday, there are several days in between where one can take time to explore this beautiful country, go to the countryside, visit the sprawling vineyards and taste some wine.

There is no one way to celebrate Christmas in Italy. Christmas in Italy can be singing Christmas carols along with everyone inside a church, or roaming around in a Christmas market, looking for goodies to gift your loved ones. Christmas in Italy can be a chilly experience when enjoying the Alps and neighboring regions, and it can be skiing down the mountains at midnight while holding torches to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Christmas in Italy can be visiting your family and enjoying a scrumptious meal and talking about everything and nothing at the family table for hours on end. Christmas in Italy can be a coffee, like espresso or Pezzetti at a local shop along with Christmas desserts, like Panettone. Christmas in Italy can be roaming around the brightly lit town, looking at elaborate Christmas decorations everywhere and observing intricacies of various nativity scenes.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for Christmas in Italy, then take a look at Christmas in Mexico or Christmas in Sweden.

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Written by Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason

Bachelor of Science specializing in Mass Communication.

Adekunle Olanrewaju Jason picture

Adekunle Olanrewaju JasonBachelor of Science specializing in Mass Communication.

With over 3+ years of professional experience, Olanrewaju is a certified SEO Specialist and Content Writer. He holds a BSc in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos. Throughout his dynamic career, Olanrewaju has successfully taken on various roles with startups and established organizations. He has served as a Technical Writer, Blogger, SEO Specialist, Social Media Manager, and Digital Marketing Manager. Known for his hardworking nature and insightful approach, Olanrewaju is dedicated to continuous learning and improvement.
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