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Christmas Traditions- 8 Fascinating Facts about Xmas in Italy

Posted On: 20th December 2016 | Category: Latest Events

Note: Planning to celebrate Christmas in Italy? But not able to decide which Italian City you should visit to make the best of your vacation? We feel that before proceeding to the interesting Italian Xmas traditions we should give you a head up so that you can decide well. When it comes to best Christmas places Naples, Turin and Rome are considered the best in Italy and the best part is that they are also the best Italian places that you can explore easily in a car rental. Hence do book a car rental with us at Cars Rental Italy and make a beeline for a great Christmas vacation.

Every country has its own set of traditions and Italy is no exception; and same is the case when we limit the discussion to just ‘Christmas Traditions’. Just like any other Country, Christmas in Italy is the most awaited time of the year, and being a major holiday, it is celebrated with much aplomb. And as Buon Natale (Italian name for Christmas) approaches in Italy, just like anywhere in the Christian World, it heralds a holiday season during which people get to stay at home and spend some quality time with their family and friends!

Since Christmas has always been the part of Italian people’s life ever since the dawn of the Christian era, it means that Italians have a repertoire of traditions that they relive each year to add sweetness and warmth to their holiday season. Here are some of the most interesting facts about Buon Natale which, most probably, are not part of the common knowledge if you are not Italian.

1. Christmas Season in Italy Starts on 8th December


Unlike other countries where events like Thanksgiving and Halloween mark the beginning of holiday or Christmas Season, in Italy Christmas season kicks starts on 8th December on the Day of the Immaculate Conception. This is the time when the Christmas markets spring up at various places, Xmas decorations go up and large Christmas trees can be seen in the main Piazzas like at Colosseum or in Milan’s Piazza Duomo, and Babbo Natale.
Also, note that many people think that 8th December is the day when Mother Mary was conceived when in fact it was the day when Church decided that Lady Mary was born without the involvement of sin.

2. In Italy, the Novena starts 8 days before the Christmas!

Yes, the major fun starts 8 days before ‘the Xmas Day’ and includes traditions such as carol singing complemented by a crowd of bagpipe players that roam about the neighborhoods sprinkling the place with their folklore symphonies and cheers. So, if you are in Italy early you are indeed going to have the time of your life, especially if you are in Rome, Sicily or South Italy; so make the most of  your time and enjoy the festivities at their best i.e. as best as they can be before the crescendo!

This span of eight days is known as the Novena, and it is the time which sets the vibe and beat of the celebration; the ambiance gradually grows more magical as the days pass by as more carolers throng the streets singing traditional songs accompanied by the zampognari or bagpipe players—who are known to travel from the nearby mountains to play their merry folklore carols. Even children go from street to street and house to house, singing carols and reciting Christmas poems!

3. Nativity Scenes- Presepi, Presepi and Some More Presepi!!


Among other common occurrence at Christmas, like wreaths, lights, and Xmas trees, Presepi, which is Italian for ‘Nativity scenes’ is also quite common in Italy, such that you will witness them not only in churches but also in big Piazzas too!

You must be wondering ‘what is so different about them?’ For us, it is important because in various parts of Italy these scenes are still crafted with bare hands!

4. Italian Meals go Meatless for the Christmas Eve


For La Vigilia i.e. Christmas Eve, Italians avoid all sorts of meats so as to purify their bodies for the ensuing Big Day. Although most of the natives make sure that they eat lean, yet many go for multiple courses of fish!!

5. Midnight Mass and Skiing on the Xmas Eve


After the Christmas Eve dinner, the Italians with their family members and friends are known to visit the Church for the Midnight Mass. And if you are in Vatican, you can have the privilege to appear for the Mass in the presence of Pope himself.

Another interesting thing that happens on Christmas Eve in Italy is that in mountainous regions like Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomite Mountains, many people ski down the snow-clad mountains as a way to welcome ‘the spirit of’ Christmas.

6. The Christmas Day- The Italian Version: Eat, Drink, Be Merry, and Eat Some More!


With their family and friends, on the Christmas day, Italians spend the whole afternoon catching up on each other while eating, eating and eating. No wonder their lunches last the whole day!! Their lavish celebrations include the mouthwatering servings of traditional dishes like pasta in the brood, roasts, and desserts like panettone and much, much more!!

7.  In Italy, the Festive Fever never end on the Xmas Day!!

St. Stephen’s Day, which falls on December 26, being a public holiday fuels the festivities to continue and Italians get another day wrapped in Christmas festivities which they also spend with their families. As most of the public places remain close, they have no other option but to spend time at home and eating the leftovers from the Christmas feast from the previous day.

As you will read ahead, the Christmas celebrations continue until on January 6 when Italians celebrate the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus!

8. ‘When to Open Your Christmas Gift(s)?’- The Italian Answers…


Interestingly, the answer to the question- ‘when to open your Christmas gift’ in Italy depends on the place where you reside. While mostly gifts are exchanged after lunch on the Christmas Day—with a belief that Jesus, not Santa brings the gifts- note that it is not a hard fast rule in Italy. In some small northern Italian cities, the gifts are opened on December 13 as it is believed that the blind Saint Lucia brings gifts for children on that day, hence presents are opened the same morning.

La Befana, Her Broomstick, and Unusual Gifts!

A third scenario also exists where people, both children, and adults, wait until 6th January to open their gifts. On this day falls the Epiphany, l’epifania, and is known for the gift giving traditions that have been surrounding the Xmas season for centuries now.

The prominent belief is that it is not just Santa Claus (Babbo Natale) who endows gifts, a ‘good witch’ named La Befana, also does. And her gifts are a bit different!! Her gifts for children as per the tradition consist of a colorful Christmas stocking which is called la calza; it is said that if the child is a good one and has been behaving well, his stocking comes filled with sweets, i dolciumi, but are filled with coal, il carbone (made of black sugar) if the child have been bad! Interesting, isn’t it? Also, note that it is because of the La Befana tradition that in Rome and Bologna various main piazzas are seen hosting fun activities for children. Certainly, a great thing to know if you are going to visit Italy with kids!

More about the legend of La Befana

As per the legend, La Befana- the good witch- is depicted as wearing an old coat full of colorful patches and old worn out shoes. She flies around on her broomstick and is believed to carry a big black bag full of sweets and presents for children. Just like Santa, La Befana is also believed to enter the houses where there are children through the chimneys and is said to leave the gifts inside the old socks that are hung beside the children’ beds the night before. However, another crisp fact is that in Venice, locals believe that la Befana arrives every year by boat! ‘Funny?’ Maybe!!

Merry Christmas!!