Sun. Jan 16th, 2022
lighted holiday tree in front of building

Christmas in Italy is filled with traditions, family, food and faith.

By | Ayesha-Maria Di Tullio

Everything in Italy is wonderful, but the Christmas season simply adds a special touch.

Natale is a holiday centred on family, a time to spend time at home (and, of course, eat!) with loved ones. So, if you have a chance to be in Italy in December, these are the most significant Christmas traditions to be aware of for us Italians.

Christmas celebrations in Italy differ from city to city, making each region distinct.

Throughout most of Italy, Christmas begins on December 8th, when we celebrate l’Immacolata.

a statue of mother mary
Mother Mary (Notre Dame)

The holiday L’Immacolata commemorates the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Many individuals in Italy commemorate the day by attending a church mass or leading a parade of Holy Mary statues around their neighbourhood.

However, there are a few exceptions to the Christmas tree traditions: in Milan, trees are put up and decorated on December 7th, in honour of St Ambrogio, the city’s patron saint, while in Bari, where I grew up, we start the decoration party on December 6th, in honour of San Nicola.

Our Christmas tree topper can be either a star (representing la stella cometa (the comet), which signalled the location of baby Jesus to the Three Kings) or an angel (representing Gabriel, the Annunciation messenger).

We even start making the Presepe (nativity) on December 8th, which, as we all know, includes Mary, Joseph, the wise men, and the shepherds – but that’s just the beginning! After all, the entire hamlet of Bethlehem is outside. Italians take delight in crafting complex scenes with a plethora of little characters filling the village. Of course, the most crucial feature is the manger crib, which remains empty until Baby Jesus arrives and is eventually placed in the crib on Christmas Eve, completing the scene. The Presepe is kept on display in Italian households until the Befana, which falls on January 6th.

figurines of the nativity of jesus
The nativity scene.

The holiday season in the Vatican begins with the opening of Peter’s Square. The midnight liturgy is held within St. Peter’s Basilica every year. Since 1993, the Vatican City has hosted a Christmas Concert every year.

The Epiphany, which is also celebrated in Italy, is the final day of the Christmas festivities. Children think that an old lady named ‘Befana’ delivers them gifts on Epiphany night. Befana’s stockings were hung near the fireplace for her to fill. Instead of Befana, the Three Kings may bring you gifts in parts of northern Italy. ‘Babbo Natale’ (Santa Claus) may deliver them some little gifts on Christmas Day, but Epiphany is the main day for gift giving.

As we say in italian, “Buon Natale a tutti!”

10 thoughts on “Christmas in Italy”
  1. This is an interesting article to read about! I enjoyed reading about the Christmas traditions in Italy. For example, I found that the L’immocata is a feast for the immaculate conception interesting because this commemorate this day by making a parade of statues that are St. Mary around the neighbourhood.

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