Christmas in Italy is one of the most revered days in the country. The period is marked by colder and shorter days, as the streets begin to lighten up with various lights decorated with bright red and green details. The Italian people value Christmas.
The beginning of December is when the Christmas holiday spirit kicks in and you will see people hurrying down the streets with packages and other goodies. The Christmas traditions in Italy are very unique Natale, as Italians call Christmas, has a specific energy that is experienced across the country.
Table of Contents
Christmas traditions and customs in Italy
Some various customs and traditions are unique to Italy. You will find bagpipe players serenading people with Christmas songs and if you stroll down the streets, you will enjoy some of the most amazing views as well as the local traditions.
It is important to note that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are observed differently in different parts of the country. Here is a deep dive into the Christmas customs and traditions in Italy:
December 8th in Italy
Christmas in Italy begins on December 8th and during this period, people will often get their Christmas spirits high. The whole month of December is usually dedicated to the Christmas festivities, and it is a time to bond with friends and family.
Winter is an ideal time to visit Italy because you will find the holiday markets bustling with activities and there are fewer tourists as well. Therefore you will not experience any kind of crowding as during the summer. Italians believe that Christmas festivities are usually family-focused and many people will head to their local hometowns where they can celebrate with their loved ones.
The Christmas markets and light displays usually come up during this period and while the country is largely Catholic, you are going to find some of the ancient traditions in the region. This day is also a day for baking cookies, and wrapping presents among others. Huge Christmas trees are placed outside and you can find Presepe or nativity scenes which are placed all over the country for people to feel welcomed.
This is a custom that has been there for centuries around Italy and it is popular to put empty stockings on the fireplace. People believe that at night a shabby woman will fill them with candies and chocolates. For the naughty children, they will get lumps of coal.
The practice is also common in other parts of Europe just like St. Nicholas. Italian children know that the arrival of Befana marks the end of the Christmas holidays and the resumption of school and other activities.
Further reading: Is South Italy better than North Italy?
This is a common tradition around Italy and they are often called the shepherd musicians and they are known for their loud, melodic, and unique sounds around the country. You will hear this music from one street square to another and the streets are usually lined up with decorations and lights, which range from alleys, decorations, churches, and even in homes.
These local bagpipers are the emblem of Italy and you will find them in tandem with the Presepe. The nativity scenes are far more common than you can imagine in the country. The bagpipes are an instrument that is made up of a sheepskin bag and a set of reeds. This instrument has a vague history as it dates back centuries. During the Middle Ages, the instrument gained large popularity across the country.
Further reading: Dangerous animals in Italy
Perhaps one of the most fundamental things that you should know about the Christmas celebration in Italy are the nativity scenes. It is a common tradition to find these figurines around the country and it can be an amazing fascination to people who do not believe in it.
In some places, you will find it being basic such as the Holy Family, while others can be very complicated and involve detailed characters such as the shepherds, or even trees. The nativity scenes play an essential role in Italy and its Christmas traditions.
The first production of the nativity scene was done by St. Francis in 1223. Ever since, the figurines became a common theme in churches as well as homes.
Further reading: Cannabis in Italy
Christmas Eve midnight mass in Italy
The Christmas Eve mass is a very important tradition in Italy. The mass is usually shorter as people are given time to go and begin their Christmas celebrations.
People often go to the parishes at 10 pm and the mass lasts until midnight. After the mass, people wish each other a merry Christmas before they can begin their Christmas traditions.
You can visit the Vatican City for one of the major masses officiated by the Pope and the event is usually televised in St. Peter’s square.
Christmas Eve dinner in Italy
Christmas Eve dinner is unique in the country people in Italy usually gather around the dinner table as they feast on the food and drinks prepared during the day. Perhaps one unique feature about the Italian Christmas Eve dinner is that there is no meat eaten during this period.
Seafood is a must on Christmas Eve. The main reason for people not consuming meat is to follow the tradition of giorno di magro in which they are supposed to eat lean and purify their bodies as a sign of devotion and respect as a believer. During this period, you will find dishes that vary depending on the region.
Some of the appetizers that Italians eat include scallops, octopus salad, and smoked salmon. The main dishes include roast sea beam, stewed cod, stewed eel, spaghetti, and a mixture of unique kinds of seafood.
Further reading: Christmas in Croatia
Day of Santa Lucia
It is important to understand that the Italian Christmas traditions and customs usually vary from one region to another.
In areas such as Veneta, Santa Lucia will bring presents to the children on 13th December while in other places such as Verona, you will find people feasting in the major piazza around the country. The Day of Santa Lucia is an old tradition that dates back to the 17th century and it is celebrated on the 13th of December.
This tradition is rooted in a major famine that occurred in the 17th century and ever since the people have been observing it. According to historical data, a ship with grain got lost in the sea in 1646 and the people were forced to consume pasta and bread.
Christmas tree in Italy
Perhaps one of the most common traditions that you will find across Italy is the decoration of Christmas trees. In many homes across Italy, people go to the forest to get Christmas trees. However, for many people living in cities or urban areas, they can purchase trees from vendors around the city.
The Christmas tree is usually set up on the 8th of December and more natural trees are often found across the country. The younger members of the household are given the responsibility of lighting the tree. They can hang ornaments as well on stars and other things on the tree.
Further reading: Christmas in Greece
Christmas markets in Italy
Perhaps one of the most outstanding features that makes Christmas in Italy an exceptional time is the Christmas market. Various places usually have many markets and you can enjoy the different varieties of commodities sold in the markets. You can purchase local products and dishes unique to this location as well as souvenirs that you can take it back to your home country.
The Christmas markets in the country are traditional and they maintain the Christmas vibe throughout the country. It is a perfect time for you to see and learn the traditional Christmas Italian traditions. There are local crafts that are produced by the artisans and specific Christmas decorations that you can use to accentuate your house.
The Italians believe in family and one of the most common traditions during the Christmas period is that people will often go back to their homes to celebrate with family members and friends.
They usually prefer to spend the Christmas period with their parents and their closest friends. It is a perfect time when people will unwrap gifts, play board games, and feast on the food and drinks prepared during this period.
Further reading: Christmas in Austria
Traditional Christmas dishes in Italy
There are various traditional Christmas dishes that are more common across Italy. These foods include seafood, spaghetti, pasta dishes, panettone, and pandoro. There is wine as well, which is consumed during this period.
The central part of the Christmas tradition is the exchanging of gifts. In most cases, you will find that parents and grandparents usually purchase gifts for their children and teens. Gifts are also exchanged between friends and colleagues.
In some regions around Italy, you will find cesti di Natale, which is a gift basket filled with high-quality items such as truffles, wines, salami, and panettone among others. The gift baskets are usually common among acquaintances and colleagues at work.
Proper wrapping of gifts is an important exercise that you should ensure that you carry out effectively because it is representative of how you feel about the person.