There’s nothing quite as special as Christmas time in Italy. Christmas, or Natale celebrations begin on December 8th and last until January 6th of the following year, with the celebration of the Christian Feast Day of Epiphany. There are many different traditions and celebrations that take place in Italy during this time. At Dagostino’s we personally love celebrating with our friends and family around a large feast with Semolina Pasta.
But let us tell you more about how the Italians celebrate.
- How does Italy Celebrate Chirstmas?
- Is Christmas a good time to go to Italy?
- What are common Christmas Traditions in Italy?
- Three Fun Facts about Christmas in Italy!
How does Italy Celebrate Christmas?
Italy celebrates Christmas in a similar fashion to the celebration in America. This is mostly due to the catholic celebrations and traditions that they have in common.
At the beginning of the Christmas season, large Christmas trees are assembled and lit in the main piazze. During this time shopping hubs and restaurants will be illuminated with decorative lights. This is when you’ll start to see Christmas markets appear in full swing.
Christmas markets are exactly what you'd imagine, booths are assembled in the main squares of cities all over Italy and offer handmade crafts, foods, sweets and gifts as well as fun christmas activities and attractions like live music. One favorite item you can find at the Christmas markets is mulled wine or vin brulé. These Christmas markets are influenced heavily by the Christmas markets you can find in Germany.
Besides these Christmas markets, most of Italy celebrates Christmas with their loved ones. They’ll prepare meals together, eat together, attend mass together and of course share a few gifts. One of the most famous Christmas Markets is San Gregorio Armeno, otherwise known as Christmas Alley.
Is Christmas a good time to go to Italy?
While Italy is very beautiful and offers a lot of fun activities in the warmer seasons, Christmas is an equally beautiful and eventful time to visit. The tropical climate in Italy during the month of December is still slightly warm and enjoyable. The relaxed and lazy pace of Italian cities is quite charming, and you can find yourself immersed in the cuisine and culture away from the crowds found during the popular summer months.
This is a great time of year to visit Italy if you consider yourself a foodie or wine connoisseur, because you’ll be able to experience seasonal delicacies that only appear in the winter months like Olive ascolane (stuffed fried olives).
One of the coolest sights you can find in Central Italy only during the holiday months is the Mount Ingino Christmas Tree. The Mount Ingino Christmas Tree is a light display you can find on the slopes of Mount Ingino or Monte Ingino right outside of the italian city Gubbio in the Umbria Region. This large light display is in the shape of a huge christmas tree and uses about 3000 lights to create, in fact it’s been known as the world’s largest christmas tree.
Of Course, Northern Italy is still a great place to visit this time of year especially if you're a fan of skiing!
What are the common Christmas Traditions in Italy?
La Befana In Italian folklore is an old woman who delivers gifts to children. The lore states that throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve on January 5th. This is similar to the lore of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus. Much like Santa Claus’ milk and cookies, children in Italy are expected to leave a small glass of wine for La Befana as well as small portions of local food dishes.
La Befana comes bearing gifts for good children and coal or sticks for naughty children, and before she leaves she’s said to sweep the house to symbolize the sweeping away problems of the old year and to welcome the new year!
Feast of the 7 Fishes
The feast of the 7 fishes or known in southern Italy as La Vigilia is a celebratory Christmas eve dinner. This dinner is held to celebrate the waiting for the birth of Baby Jesus, the nativity scene and the immaculate conception.
Much like the fasting during Lent, this celebration includes the abstaining of meat which is why the feast is so widely known for its seafood and fish dishes served.
It’s unknown when exactly the name “Feast of the 7 Fishes” became popular, but the dishes served are not always the same and not always only seven dishes.
Some of the most popular dishes you can find at this feast are baccalà, calamari, and Scungilli salad.
Babbo Natale is a more recent tradition in Italy that is gaining more and more popularity every year. This is Italy’s version of the modern day Santa Claus. He wears a red cloak with white trimmings, but isn't as “fat” or “jolly” as America’s Santa Claus.
The lore states that on Christmas eve after midnight mass, Babbo Natale visits the homes of children and leaves gifts under the tree and in their stockings. On Christmas day the children get their gifts and celebrate with family.
Three Fun Facts about Christmas in Italy!
- On the 26th December, Italians celebrate another important holiday: Santo Stefano. It is a Christian festivity dedicated to the martyr, Stefano, who was known for preaching the word of God and converting many people to Christianity.
- There are many popular Christmas dishes, but one of the most popular is Panettone. Panettone is a christmas cake, very similar to fruit cake that is originally from Milan.
- To wish someone a Merry Christmas in Italian, we say Buon Natale!