Christmas in Italy: traditions, activities, curiosities and pictures
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Discovering the Italian Christmas traditions

Tourists visiting Italy in this Christmas period, notice that there are few streets lit and decorated for Christmas in the style of other countries. Christmas in Italy is a very family festivity. A typical tradition in Rome is that hundreds of children, on the Sunday before the Holidays, carry the statue of baby Jesus, then they will put in the crib of St. Peter’s Square for the Pope’s blessing during the Angelus prayer.

Christmas in Italy: Nativity scenes in St.Peter's square

Christmas in Italy: Nativity scenes in St.Peter’s square Charles Pence. Licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

The way Italians live these days is summarized by the following saying “Christmas with the yours, Easter what you want - “. This indicates that is a very familiar party.

The 24th December begins the “Christmas Eve” with the traditional “Cenone” (big dinner). The 25th is also celebrated with food, family visits and meetings between friends, also exchange of gifts.

Christmas in Italy: Christmas Eve dinner

Christmas in Italy: Christmas Eve dinner Giulio Roggero. Licensed by CC BY 2.0

The New Year (Notte di Capodanno), is usually held outside, in night clubs, discos and also with parties at home, you can’t miss to dinner before with your family! It is customary to eat lentils in this night that should carry a lot of money in the new year.

Christmas in Italy: New year in Rome

Christmas in Italy: New year in Rome Brice Walker. Licensed by CC BY 2.0

Another custom is to give women red lingerie to ensure good luck in the new year -  and, in Rome and Naples, at twelve o’clock, people throw away the old stuff to start the new year off right.

Christmas in Italy: bonfire of old stuff (new Year tradition)

Christmas in Italy: bonfire of old stuff (new Year tradition) Fedewild. Licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

The January 6 is celebrated the day of the Befana, the good witch who brings candy to children who are good and coal to children who misbehave. The typical sweets of this period are the “Panettone” and “Pandoro”.

Christmas in Italy: Pandoro Cake

Christmas in Italy: Pandoro Cake Emiliano. Licensed by CC BY 2.0

Curiosities about Christmas in Italy

  • Did you know that … the Romans celebrated the New Year’s Eve - , they invited friends to dinner and exchanged honey with dates and figs to make sure that the bad taste of the of the negative events of the past year and the year starting was sweet?
  • Did you know that … on the eve of January 6, Befana brings sweets to children - ? Legend tells that, when the Magi came to the manger in Bethlehem, they invited her but she wouldn’t go to give gifts to the baby Jesus. For this reason she felt guilty and since then she brings gifts to Italian children to ingratiate himself with Jesus.
    Christmas in Italy: celebrating Befana in Locana, near Turin

    Christmas in Italy: celebrating Befana in Locana, near Turin Eleonora Gianinetto. Licensed by CC BY 2.0

  • Did you know that … the Christmas term comes from the Latin Nativitas, meaning birth - ?
  • Did you know that … the celebration of Christmas on December 25 dates back to the Roman pagan holidays, Saturnalia - or Saturne parties , celebrated with great feasts and festivals? With the arrival of Christianity, it was established to celebrate on this day the birth of Christ and Sun of God.
    Saturnalia parade in Chester (England)

    Saturnalia parade in Chester (England) Donald Judge. Licensed by CC BY 2.0

  • Did you know that … the panettone was invented in Milan in 1495, in the castle of Duke Ludovico Sforza? He wanted to prepare a special Christmas party, due to different mistakes, one of his cooks came up with the idea of putting the bread raisins and dried fruit - . He called it “panettone”.
    Christmas in Italy: Panettone

    Christmas in Italy: Panettone Nicola since 1972. Licensed by CC BY 2.0

  • Did you know that … in Italy is celebrated a carol competition, since 1350 - ? It’s called “pastorelle”, Christmas songs.
  • Did you know that … the word “Noel” is synonymous with carol? For this reason people began to call the Christmas character Father Noel.
    Christmas in Italy: Santa Claus in Milan

    Christmas in Italy: Santa Claus in Milan HDZimmermann. Licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

La Befana: the good little witch of Italian folklore.

According to ancient beliefs, the Befana belongs to the legion of demons, witches and spirits who entered the land for the new year. People suppose she has magical and premonitory powers. La Befana through the ages has been changed its character and today she is considered a good witch.

Christmas in Italy: The Befana

Christmas in Italy: The Befana Ho visto Nina volare. Licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0

Customs dictate that the Befana visits the children on the eve of the Epiphany and brings candy or gifts to children who behaved well during the year. But children are not well behaved they say brings them coal.
In some villages people go from house to house asking for handouts for Befana. Denying the Befana a present, you could have bad luck. Then, people prepare a great dinner with everything collected and it all ends in a big party.