One of the most beautiful countries in Europe, Italy does celebrate Christmas. Christmas celebrations here take a slightly different note when compared to English-speaking countries, but Christmas is one of the most awaited celebrations.
In Italy, Christmas is a season of ecstasy that brings family and friends together to enjoy the festivities in joyful reunions.
How Does Italy Celebrate Christmas?
The Christmas season in Italy begins on December 8 with the Feast Day of Immaculate Conception. During the season, instead of adorning streets, shops, and houses with endless Christmas decorations or buying hoards of gifts for friends and family, Italians focus on spending time with each other.
This is a time when they visit their friends and relatives and make delicious meals with lots of seasonal culinary delights to celebrate the season.
The season involves several events leading up to the day of the Epiphany. The church bells in the distance and the sweet aroma emanating from roast chestnuts are characteristic of Christmas in Italy.
What Is Christmas Called In Italy?
The Italian name for Christmas is Natale; it also fittingly means ‘birthday’. The name is believed to have originated in the ancient region of Venice.
Buon Natale means merry Christmas and Buona Festa means have a great holiday.
What Does Santa Look Like In Italy?
In Italy, Santa is called Baboo Natale. The Italian version of Santa Claus is skinnier and more well-dressed.
Contrary to the belief that the gifts are brought by Santa, Italians believe that the gifts are brought by Jesus; however, the beliefs vary from region to region, and these days, many Italians celebrate Christmas with gifts from Baboo Natale.
Does Everyone Celebrate Christmas In Italy?
Yes, Christmas is one of the most celebrated events in Italy. This is a time of love, joy, and laughter for every Italian.
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Christmas Celebrations In Italy
The Christmas season in Italy spans several weeks. Christmas Day on December 25 isn’t the only day of significance; from December 8 to January 8, Italians partake in various celebrations.
The Day of Immaculate Conception
A national holiday in Italy, the Day of Immaculate Conception marks the beginning of the Christmas season in the country. The day is about Mary who decided to free herself from her original sin.
The Day of Immaculate Conception is when the towering Christmas trees start to appear in the streets, the town squares, and shopping malls.
Christmas markets dot the country, and supermarkets reshuffle their shelves with Christmas food delights. Piazza Venezia, the Colosseum, and Piazza San Pietro are three places that tout magnificent Christmas trees.
The Novena celebrates the journey of the Wise Men to see baby Jesus.
Italians do a lot of religious activities during this period, while children dress up as the Wise Men and other characters from the bible; they go door to door singing carols expecting sweets in return.
What’s more, theatres and churches assume a busy persona with various performances.
Visiting Christmas markets should be a high priority on your list of things to do. Town squares turn into a veritable beehive with Christmas markets selling varieties of food and artisanal gift items.
Most Italian Christmas markets are similar to German markets, which means that visitors can enjoy both German and Italian food items.
Go to Florence to see Gothic-style markets, and for a romantic experience, visit Piazza Dei Signori in Verona; Piazza Navona in Rome is worth visiting too.
Nativity displays, or I Presepi, are a symbol of Christmas in Italy; Italians take the concept quite seriously. Every church and household has a display, and major Italian cities like Naples tout the most elaborate nativity scenes – Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples is called the Christmas alley for its splendid nativity scenes created by artisans.
Rome too has a variety of nativity scenes, including the life-size one found opposite La Basilica di San Pietro in the Vatican, overlooked by the Pope himself.
The Lights of Artists Festival
For an enchanting Christmas, visit Salerno, where the Light of Artists Festival is held. Located south of Naples, the city hosts light installations of various colours and shapes in town squares and streets.
After sunset, the city turns into a winter land of magic, with lights, Christmas cheer, and the sound of Church bells.
Visit The Enchanted Garden in Villa Comunale and shop at the Salerno Christmas market.
Skiing And Snowboarding For An Alpine Christmas
Take advantage of the wintery and snowy alps during Christmas. You can add a bit of adventure and novelty to your Christmas celebrations by skiing and snowboarding down the slopes.
Christmas Eve, or La Vigilia, is the most important aspect of the Christmas season in Italy. Traditionally, Italians fast during the day and attend mass at midnight. The sound of the Church bells is unanimous throughout the country at midnight.
The firing of canons from Castel Sant’Angelo to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus is a special feature of La Vigilia. Feast of Seven Fish is another important aspect of Italian Christmas Eve; Italians consume a meal consisting of seven types of fish in an attempt to purify themselves before Christmas.
Il Giorno di Natale
Don’t worry if you miss the Pope on Christmas Eve, you can see him again on Christmas Day at his mass held at midday.
Italian Christmas traditions are slightly different from the ones observed in other Catholic countries; for instance, when Italians leave the church on Christmas day, they like to kiss the hand or foot of a baby Jesus statue as a gesture of respect.
Christmas Day is a day of family gatherings and reunions. Italians enjoy a massive feast consisting of traditional Christmas foods; the feast would last all day long.
They also exchange nicely-wrapped gifts and letters of love at the Christmas table.
Il Giorno di Santo Stefano
The day after Christmas Day is Saint Stephen’s Day, also known as Il Giorno di Santo Stefano. Italians continue to immerse themselves in the Christmas Day spirit and eat leftover foods; they also take the time to visit churches to see the nativity displays.
La Befana’ on ‘L’Epifania
Good children in Italy can expect gifts from La Befana on the eve of Epiphany. La Befana is a witch who travels around on a broomstick distributing gifts among good children. Italians leave stockings expecting gifts and a glass of milk with some cookies for La Befana to eat when she comes around.
The 6th of January is the end of the Christmas season; this is the day of Epiphany; the day the Wise Men finally found baby Jesus.
Christmas Food In Italy
On Christmas Eve, Italians like to enjoy a light dinner with no meat. Tuna, salmon, swordfish, smelts, spaghetti, calamari, and octopus salads make up the Christmas Eve dinner. Christmas day feast, however, does justice to the word feast.
Christmas day lunch is hours long and Christmas day dinner is an equally long, meat-filled meal. Baked pasta is a favourite in southern Italy, while filled pasta like ravioli and manicotti and Lasagne Bolognese are favourites in northern Italy.
Baked chicken, roasted veal, vegetables, and sausages make up the Christmas day meal in Italy.
Does Italy Believe In Santa Claus?
Yes, Italians, or rather Italian children, do believe in Santa Claus, endearingly called Baboo Natale. However, Italy also believes in another version of Santa: La Befana.
La Befana is an old woman, who’s thought to be a witch. While Santa distributes gifts on Christmas Eve, La Befana distributes candy, or coal depending on the behaviour of the children, on the Eve of Epiphany.
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What Are 3 Facts About Christmas In Italy?
There are many unique facts about Christmas in Italy, but if you want to know just three, they are as follows:
- Italians celebrate Christmas for over a month.
- La Befana is more popular than Santa Claus.
- Most locals, depending on the region they are from, exchange gifts on January 6th, the last day of the season.
Furthermore, Rome is mesmerizingly beautiful on Christmas eve and Christmas day, with the Pope giving a mass at midnight and midday; the town square is also adorned with a massive Christmas tree.
Places To Visit In Italy During The Christmas Season
Planning to visit Italy during the Christmas season? Here are the best places to visit:
- Bolzano and Merano: To explore Christmas markets that resemble German markets.
- Venice: To explore museums and experience the Christmas cheer.
- Milan: To shop and enjoy elegant Christmas decorations.
- Manarola: For the outstandingly beautiful nativity scene.
- Rome and the Vatican: For the magical atmosphere.
- Naples: For nativity scenes and traditional Italian foods.
- Florence and Tuscany: For shopping, sightseeing, and holiday decorations.
- Southern Italy: For the milder climate and the charm of small towns.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Is Christmas Big In Italy?
Yes, Christmas is one of the most-awaited and celebrated holidays in Italy, which is evident from the fact that they enjoy the festivities for over a month!
Is Halloween celebrated in Italy?
Yes, Italy celebrates Halloween, but it’s not a national holiday. Children usually dress up on Halloween day and go trick-or-treating, and there are shops in town squares offering candy to these kids.
Does Italy celebrate Valentine's day?
Valentine’s day is celebrated in Italy. To Italians, Valentine’s day is a spring festival; they like to spend time outdoors and take walks in gardens and parks.
Does Italy celebrate Mardi Gras?
Italy celebrates Mardi Gras with a lot of parades all over the country.
Called Carnevale in Italian, Madi Gras is one of the most culturally important celebrations in Italy; the festival is celebrated for several weeks, with brightly coloured parades and bakeries handing out carnival sweets.
Does Italy celebrate Thanksgiving?
No, Italy does not celebrate Thanksgiving, which is an American festival. Italians in the United States may celebrate Thanksgiving, and Americans in Italy may celebrate the festival as well.
Does Italy celebrate Easter?
Yes, Easter is a holiday in Italy, accompanied by various festivities. Celebrations and religious parades can be witnessed all over the country. You can also see street processions with crowds, carrying statues of Jesus.
Easter meals can vary according to the region, but lamb, eggs, and Easter pies are usual components of an Italian Easter Day meal.
Does Italy Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?
Yes, but not in the same way that Ireland celebrates St Patrick’s day.
Does Italy Celebrate New Year's Day?
Yes, Italy celebrates New Year’s day. Italians call it Capodanno, which bears the meaning ‘head of the year’.
Fireworks, festivals, concerts, and bonfires are common occurrences on the 1st of January.