The festive season is soon to be upon us; the weather has begun to change, the leaves are turning beautiful shades of red, yellow and orange and here at Essential Italy, we’re getting in the Christmas spirit! The Christmas celebrations in Italy take place a little differently to those in the UK, with the bulk of the celebrations falling between the 24th December and 6th January, and Italian traditions differ a little from those in the UK. If you are thinking of visiting Italy during the Christmas celebrations this year, we’ve got a little guide so that you can learn all about their customs and traditions for your Italian holidays.
The Feast of Immaculate Conception
The Feast of Immaculate Conception beginning on the 8th December marks the definitive beginning of the festive period, and once this feast has been enjoyed, the Christmas spirit will be seen all around. By this point, Christmas markets will be in full swing, (our guide to “5 of the Best Italian Christmas Markets” will give you a taste of what to expect), and the lights and decorations will light up the many towns in Italy giving them a magical ambience.
The Novena is the name given to the eight days in the lead up to Christmas, where traditional songs will be heard from all around; particularly in the south of Italy, where bagpipes will also sound! The festive cheer fills the air and gets the whole community in the spirit of Christmas. You’ll find that the closer it gets to Christmas Eve, the bigger, better and more elaborate the festive events and displays will become!
Most displays that you will see over the magical country will feature some form of presepe (nativity play); these will be set it in churches, at piazzas or on street sides, and is a tradition that has spanned hundreds of years. Originating in Naples, traditionally, this was one of the few decorations used around Christmas. In recent years, the popularity of trees, lights and decorations has continued to increase, adding to the festive feel alongside the traditional presepe.
Christmas Eve is a big event in the Italian calendar, with bonfires and fireworks aplenty. In most areas of Italy, a meatless meal is eaten on Christmas Eve usually comprising of whole baked fish dishes; this is to prepare and purify their bodies for the feast that is to come on Christmas Day. Known as the most lavish celebration in the Italian calendar, the feast eaten on Christmas Day will largely relate around grand meat dishes, sweet treats and indulgent snacks. After this meal has been consumed, families traditionally head to midnight mass. On return, the families will then gather together for a small meal of classic Italian panettone accompanied by a mug of rich hot chocolate.
12-Days of Christmas
As mentioned above, the festive period in Italy runs from Christmas Eve (24th December) through to The Epiphany (6th January), and the Italians love to celebrate this period in style with grand events, fantastic spreads of food and of course the coming together of friends and family. This 12-day period marks the 12-days of Christmas and is one of the most joyous and eventful in the Italian calendar!
La Beffana is a female witch figure that spreads joy and love to the entire world. Unlike in the UK, La Beffana usually brings gifts on January 6th, rather than on Christmas Day itself, as this was when the three wise men bought gifts to Jesus in the biblical stories. Some areas have, however, veered away from tradition and now like to give gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
Bring your family to Italy this Christmas to experience the rich culture and vibrant celebrations that can be seen across the country; we can promise that you will not be disappointed and will have a very ‘Buon Natale’ (Happy Christmas)!
Want to hear some of the more unusual Italian past times? Check out our “Crazy Italian Christmas Traditions“!