The best Christmas traditions in Italy

12th December, 2016

Christmas in Italy is a big event and celebrated a little differently than in the UK. Most of the celebrations take place between 24th December and 6th January. If you are staying at our luxury villas in Italy this Christmas, why not find out some of the best Christmas traditions and customs celebrated in Italy to try yourself. 

The lead up to Christmas

The Italians celebrate in style for Christmas, beginning on the 8th December and The Feast of Immaculate Conception. This is when decorations and lights go up on streets and in homes and when many of the Christmas markets start around the country are set up in the town piazzas. 

After the decorations are up, then follows the Novena, which are the eight days leading up to Christmas. Filled with carolers singing traditional songs, the week before Christmas is always one filled with joy and well-wishing. If you are staying at our villas in the southern regions of Italy, keep an eye out for zampognari or bagpipe players, who travel about playing merry folklore carols.

In addition to the lights, trees and wreaths, you can also find presepi in churches and piazzas around the country. The nativity scenes are handmade ornate works of art that remain a crucial tradition in all parts of the country. The source of the presepi lies in Naples, which is world famous for its handmade scenes, with whole streets full of workshops devoted to the craft of making them. 

When preparing for Christmas Day itself, Italians avoid meat on Christmas Eve which symbolises preparing and purifying their bodies. Though the idea is to fast a bit, most indulge on seafood and fish, sometimes eating up to seven courses! After the family meal on Christmas Day, Italian’s will head to midnight mass at their local church to celebrate. 

The day itself

After a lighter meal on Christmas Eve, on Christmas Day family and friends gather together for a large lunch that goes on all day. Many save up to have the most lavish and delicious meal of the year as possible, serving multiple dishes from pasta, roasts, desserts and sweet treats. The feasting goes on well into the evening, finishing off with some hot chocolate and panettone. 

After Christmas Day

Italians continue to celebrate Christmas after the day itself, starting with Santo Stefano on Boxing Day when families get together to eat the leftovers from Christmas Day. 

The official end of the Christmas season in Italy isn’t until January 6th, the Day of the Epiphany, and the twelfth day of Christmas. On the eve of the Epiphany, families prepare a large dinner that will mark the end of the festive season. After the 6th, decorations will be taken down and markets are closed. 

Gift giving

Unlike in Britain, where most families give their gifts on Christmas Day, the day Italian’s open their gifts changes from place to place. Though it is still most common to exchange presents on Christmas Day after lunch, with the belief Jesus delivered them, some northern Italian cities believe Saint Lucia brings gifts for children on December 13th so they open gifts in the morning on that day. Other families wait until January 6th. The Epiphany is when la befana, a kind of ‘good witch’ who followed the Wise Men drops off the presents. La befana is a day for the children, with many town piazzas hosting entertainment for the children to enjoy.