One of the most beautiful times to visit Italy is during the Christmas season. It’s a time of celebration and joy with processions, festivals and merrymaking throughout the country, from the big cities to small villages in rural areas.
Here are five reasons to love the most wonderful time of the year in Italy:
It is less commercial – Italians tend to focus less on the gift-giving and more on the celebrating. While presents are exchanged, the emphasis is not on the excessive commercialism and frenzied shopping preparations common now in North America. Scenes of the Nativity, the birth of Jesus, by far outnumber sightings of St. Nicholas or Babbo Natale (Father Christmas). From Rome to Venice and out into the hillside communities in Florence you will find beautiful Nativity scenes called presepi at churches and in common areas or piazzas. Some are living nativities, enacted by real people, and you can even see thousands of Nativity figures at the Museo del Presepio in Rome.
It’s not over in a day – Celebrations start with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, a national holiday that is marked with parades, feasts and even bonfires in some regions. St. Lucia’s Day is observed on December 13th in many Italian towns, particularly in Sicily, with processions, celebrations and even fireworks. Christmas Eve is huge and marked with special meatless and seafood dishes and special services including at the Vatican. Tickets for Midnight Mass at the Vatican must be obtained months in advance but many pilgrims watch the service on a huge screen in St. Peter’s Square. Gift-giving and special meals follow on Christmas Day but the main gift-giving is done on the Epiphany, the Twelfth Day of Christmas when the visit of the Three Magi bringing gifts to the Christ child is observed. Again there are traditional processions and parades in Rome, Milan and countless other towns and villages.
It’s magical – Italy is a country steeped in Christmas with beautiful ornamentation, decorated Christmas trees and rich traditions that bring Christmas to life. Christmas markets such as Piazza Navona in Rome offer wonderful candies, toys and trinkets for sale, as well as a chance to glimpse Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) giving gifts to good children. On the eve of the Epiphany, January 5th, a crone known as La Bafana travels on her broomstick, leaving toys for good children and coal for the naughty ones. Legend holds that the Magi met her on their way to see the baby Jesus but she declined to join them and the shepherds. Later, upon seeing the star she found toys that belonged to her deceased baby but couldn’t find her way to the Christ child. For this reason she is out every year in hopes of finding the baby Jesus.
It’s a festival of light – From candles in darkened churches at midnight Mass to beautifully lit trees to the holiday lights strung in the calli (passageways) of Venice, Italy is dazzling in its celebration of the Advent weeks of hope, peace, joy and love. Whether you decide to join the throngs of people at the Vatican or celebrate quietly with a rural wine tour, Italy will delight your senses and warm your soul throughout December and into the New Year.
You can forget the fruitcake –Italians know good food and drink – and Christmas is no exception. Don’t worry about choking down stodgy Anglo-Saxon fruitcake here in Buon Italia. Here Christmas means multi-course meals, enjoying recipes that haven been handed down from generation to generation, and lovely desserts including the light and luscious Panettone.
This is a wonderful time to visit Italy! While you are here, it’s also a great time to enjoy a relaxing day on our Hill Towns of Veneto Day Tour from Venice. Stroll around enchanting villages and towns, savour the delicious cuisine and famous wines of the Veneto.
We invite you to experience a truly memorable Christmas, here in Italy.