‘Buon Natale!’ If you hear this phrase, someone is wishing you a merry Christmas in Italy! Italians certainly do celebrate Christmas. Italy is a Christian country, 90% of the population belonging to the Catholic church. Christmas in Italy will be a unexpected surprise. It is considered a very important occasion: old traditions, amazing food, ancient arts and crafts.
Beautiful cities become even more amazing when they are full of Christmas decorations and themed activities. Honestly, the Italian Christmas is quite different from an Hollywood-style New York Christmas. Less holiday decorations, less tree lots, less noisy streets and store displays, etc. On the other hand our traditions and the magic air you can breathe in the air of all Italian regions will amaze you!
Unfortunately, to date is more difficult to meet Zampognari and Pifferai (bagpipers and flute players dressed with traditional costumes) down on the streets of the big cities. But we assure you, December is a magic moment to visit Italy. And probably you will be lucky enough to meet them in many towns of the Calabria or the Abruzzo regions and also in bigger cities if you like to walk, wandering through streets, churches and shops.
Don’t give up hope if you are visiting just major cities. In Rome, the pipers play at the Christmas market in the historic Piazza Navona. And this is just one of the many occasions you will have to find something unique to see. Many small towns – but also cities as Naples through its beautiful quartieri spagnoli – feature a Nativity scene with actors. They wander around small streets, stables and squares interpreting ancient trades.
Christmas in Italy is even more
Christmas in Italy will definitely charm you and coming here with your whole family during Christmas vacation is a very good idea. You will find unique experiences to satisfy adults’ desires and to support children’s fantasy.
Shopping is taken for granted. Italy gave birth to many many international renown fashion brands and people keep coming here from all over the world to comply with their spending addiction. It is the right place. Especially if you want to find something unusual, hand made, tailored and unique. Perfect for Christmas gifts!
Moreover, there’s no other country in the world with as many beautiful churches as Italy. When we talk about Italian churches we talk about Caravaggio, Bernini, Donatello, Giotto. We think about Medieval mosaics, Renaissance art, sculptures, paintings, frescoes. Palladio, Tintoretto, Bellini, Michelangelo and Raphael. Take all of this and put it together with the Christmas atmosphere…
Finally, there something that makes everybody happy in our beautiful peninsula.
What are we talking about? Food!
You must celebrate Christmas…with food!
Christmas means spending time with family and friends and it has a heavy focus on food. Food in Italy is important and is culture-related. It is real culture in every single element.
The big meal for Christmas in Italy is still the Christmas Eve feast. The tradition of Il Cenone (that literally means big dinner and is the elaborate night-time meal) is still very much celebrated by the vast majority of Italian families. Traditionally, Italians would fast all day on 24 December, then attend a late-night Mass before returning home to the dinner that has been in intense preparation all day.
The traditional dinner is mostly meatless. Fish and seafood are prepared as a soup and/or a stew or simply fried. Anyway, depending on the region, the traditional recipes cooked will vary enormously. From pasta as tortellini or cappelletti in Emilia Romagna region to cotechino (a large, fresh pork sausage), until bollito misto, tortelli, legumes, vegetables and obviously desserts!
Have you ever heard about the Italian-American Feast of the Seven Fishes?
Naples and its presepio
The art of the presepio is maybe one of the most amazing form of craftmanship in Italy. Crafted since centuries, this entirely handmade nativity scenes are full of very minute details. Religious symbols, characters and figures from the Christmas Story live together with ‘every day’ people and objects (shops, houses, waterfalls, food, animals and even figures of VIPs!).
You can find big crèches (cribs in Br English) or extremely small ones (literally built in a nutshell). The first nativity scene in Naples is thought to go back to 1025 and was in the Church of S. Maria del presepe (Saint Mary of the crèche). Having one of it in your home is still popular today. Traditionally, grandpas make their own presepe for the family with papier-mache, glue, figures and so on.
In Naples there is a still a street of nativity scene makers called ‘Via San Gregorio Armeno’. It is in the middle of the historic centre. In this street you can buy wonderful hand made nativity or just a figure as a souvenir.
Read also: Good table manners in Italy