Italy Christmas Traditions

Wondering how Italians celebrate Christmas? Right from the Christmas holidays to to the detailed information about Christmas dinner... Find it all here.
Festivals are meant to bring the everyone together, spread love, and peace amongst all. Christmas is a hugely popular festival around the world.

Christmas traditions in Italy are very picturesque and hence attract a lot of tourists in December. In spite of Italy being very cold during Christmas, people do visit famous churches like the St. Peter's Church, for the midnight mass.

The Christmas schedule for the Italians is as follows:

Christmas Holidays in Italy
December 6Festa di San Nicola
December 8L'Immacolata Concezione
December 13Festa di Santa Lucia
December 24La Vigilia di Natale
December 25Natale
December 26Festa di Santo Stefano
December 31Festa di San Silvestro
January 1Il Copadano
January 6La Festa dell'Epiphania

The celebrations start way before Christmas day. The festival starts with the nine day long praying period, which is called Novena. This is when the actual Christmas vacations start in Italy and is utilized for various preparations. Decorating the Christmas tree is just a part one of the projects that people undertake in the holidays. We will see more details about the very interesting traditions in the following section.

Presepio
The peculiar thing about Italian Christmas traditions is the nativity. It is the scene that is shown in the picture above. This particular scene is made up with little statues that represents and depicts the actual scene when Jesus Christ was born. Naples is one of the cities in Italy to visit if you are interested in seeing various types of nativity.

Another peculiar tradition Italians follow is spotting the first star in the night sky. They light candles which is again a symbolism of lighting the way for baby Jesus's arrival into their homes. Each one in the family then takes turns to hold the little statue of Jesus from the nativity and finally places it in the manger, because as we know, Jesus Christ was born in a barn.

Zampognari and Pifferai
The words translate to bagpiper and piper respectively. As the name suggests, this is also one of the traditions where people, dressed as shepherds, play these instruments in front of all the nativity scenes that they come across and also sing Christmas carols.

Urn of Fate
As the name suggests, this urn contains gifts. Each person has some gift inside this urn and is also referred to as the lucky dip. This urn contains surprise gifts and sometimes even empty boxes! But nevertheless, everyone has got a gift named after them. So each member of the family take their turns to draw out their present and see what's inside it.

Letter Writing
A very sweet, touching and beautiful custom where children write letters to their parents saying how they will change for good and behave properly. They promise them that they will follow the good path and express love for them too. The letters are placed below the dinner plates. This ritual takes place after the dinner is over.

La Befana
This is one of the traditions which the kids love. The word Befana is referred to the old woman who goes around distributing gifts but actually is in search of the baby Jesus. There's a very interesting story behind this lady figure.

The story goes like this... When the three wise men came to ask her the whereabouts of the stable where Jesus was born, she not only refused to tell but also declined their invitation to come along and see the son of the Lord. Hence every year she goes around distributing her dead son's toys as Christmas gifts in search of Jesus, thinking He might be in one of the houses. It is also said that she gives a piece of coal instead to children who behave badly.

Christmas Feast
The traditional Christmas recipe in Italy is vegetarian. On Christmas eve which is known as the La Vigilia di Natale, Italians eat pasta, special cakes, viz., panettone, and pandoro along with fish and panforte, which is a type of gingerbread. Yes, fish is allowed on the occasion and in Southern Italy, they serve seven different kinds of fish.

Last Day
Well, coming to the last part of the Christmas traditions, it is a double bonanza where people are showering gifts again! Now what happens is, after you have taken your lucky dip inside the urn of fate, it is La Befana's turn for gifting you.

Other traditions include burning a bonfire in the main square of the city, decorating the Christmas tree, and marching through torch-lit streets like in a mass. Different cities have different ways and customs of celebrating. One of them is people getting dressed as Father Christmas or Babbo Natale along with their canoes full of lightings and Christmas decorations, travel to the middle of the river where there is a crib hanging over the water. They give gifts to all the children present in that crib. This ritual takes place in Città di Castello.
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