Thinking about visiting Italy over the Christmas holidays?
Christmas, or Natale in Italian, is full of lights, outdoor markets and nativity scenes.
To help you plan your Italian holiday in December I’ve included:
- National Holidays to plan around, learn about and take part in
- Weather to consider positives and negatives
- My favorite region, Umbria!
Not able to be in Italy this December? Why not have New Years Eve Italian Style? I explain all about it here.
Christmas in Italy: An Italian Christmas Calendar
There are 4 national holidays over the Christmas period: December 8th, 25th, 26th,
As an extra in some regions Italian Christmas calendar also includes December 13th.
Christmas celebrations officially start on December 8th.
A Catholic holiday, December 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Or a day to celebrate Mary for being free from sin.
As it’s a holiday the traditional thing to do is to put up your tree, set out the Nativity Scene and then compare yours with friends and relatives with photos in group chats.
There’s a special Mass, so expect Churches to be busy. In
In Rome the parks and piazzas become a celebration of Christmas.
This is the day I, and many others in Italy, give the house an extra good clean and drag out all the Christmas decorations. My mother-in-law has a tree she decorates, but I make do by decorating my many houseplants with garlands and decorations.
The feast day of Saint Lucy, or in Italian Santa Lucia (283–304). She was made famous by the Swedes but called Syracuse, Sicily home. The story goes that a disappointed suitor reported her as a Christian. Being a Christian was a crime and she was executed for this in Syracuse, Sicily in 304 AD.
Her feast day once coincided with the Winter Solstice before calender reforms, the shortest day of the year. So it became a festival of light returning. Even her name, the root luc means light.
Not all of Italy celebrates this holiday, it’s the south and the north of Italy who celebrate. In central Italy it doesn’t hold the same importance.
In the south, Sicily and Calabria, they celebrate with pasta and a special dessert of wheat boiled in chocolate milk. Which is a bit grim. The soft wheat symbolizes her eyes, dug out before her execution, and eaten only on December
In the North, regions like Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige, celebrate her with her donkey, bringing gifts to all the children. Like with Santa they leave out food for her, and for the donkey hay.
In Italian Christmas Eve is called La Vigilia. The tradition all over Italy is to have fish on Christmas eve. In the same
And while the 24th should be
For this meal the number of courses can be significant. 7 courses represent the seven sacraments. Or go wild with 9 courses for the Trinity (squared), 12 for the apostles or 13 for the disciples of Jesus.
Babbo Natale is Santa Claus/Father Christmas in Italy. Babbo meaning father in Tuscany and northern Umbria. Italian kids get only presents from Santa on Christmas day. Family and friends give presents, but under the tree they are all from Babbo Natale.
Most will attend mass and return home for a feast, Christmas lunch. Being that most things are closed attend a mass for full cultural immersion, just don’t take communion unless you are Catholic.
Christmas lunch is the big meal of the day. And unlike in the UK, Canada or the States, there is a huge variety in what people cook to celebrate. My experience is in Perugia where my talented mother-in-law creates a feast for us.
Primo, or the pasta dish, is Cappelletti in Brodo.
Cappelletti in Brodo are small meat tortellini. The meat filling is made first, then together we spend an afternoon rolling pasta, filling and shaping hundreds of cappelletti. On Christmas day the cappelletti
The Feast of Santo Stefano most things are closed. And just like everywhere Christmas is celebrated here in Italy it’s a day to eat all the leftovers from Christmas day and recover from all the preperation.
The Epiphany, or la
Similar to Santa, la Befana enters people’s homes through their chimneys and they leave her a treat, a small glass of wine and a snack. The Befana rides on a broom with a black cape leaving coal for the naughty children.
La Befana originates from Rome and they celebrate her with a Christmas market from December 26th to January 5th (the 12 days of Christmas). On sale are toys, sweets and black candy looking like coal in Piazza Navona.
Her link to the bible is meeting the three wise men. Perhaps they stayed at her home, they may have asked for directions to baby Jesus, or they invited her to join them and she refused. Later she felt regret and tried to find baby Jesus on her own without success causing her to always search the night sky for him.
Highlights of Celebrating Christmas in Umbria
Along with decorating a tree, children make nativity scenes in their homes. Adding baby Jesus only on the 24th. All over Umbria, especially Assisi, you’ll find small towns with live nativity scenes,
There are even nativity scenes made from pastry or chocolate. Naples is famous for theirs.
Saint Francis of Assisi created the first live nativity scene. Called a Presepe in Italian, in 1223 he recreated the nativity scene for his Christmas Eve Mass in a cave outside of Greccio, Lazio. Every year Greccio celebrates this event with a live Presepe the week around Christmas.
Gubbio unveils the largest Christmas tree in Italy every year on December 7th. Mount Ingino, behind Gubbio, becomes a 650 meter Christmas tree. With 700 lights, even 50km away the tree is visible.
Perugia holds their Christmas market in the Rocca Paolina, great as it protects everyone from the rain and wind, for three weeks in December.
Lago Trasimeno now has a Christmas Tree in lights in the center of the lake, best seen from Castiglione del Lago.
For live music head to Orvieto. They host the Umbria Jazz winter addition from December 28th to January 1rst. Find other concerts throughout the Christmas season in Umbrian churches, like the Basilica in Assisi, on posters or on line.
Come Enjoy A Christmas In Umbria!
The festive spirit in Umbria is catching. All the classic Italian Christmas delicacies available in restaurants.
Be sure to indulge in some Italian hot chocolate, chestnut flour pastries and watch at least one firework display celebrating the season.
Plan on shopping trip. The Christmas markets are hard to resist, full of local cheeses, wine and honey, beautiful pottery, and watercolours.
A Christmas experience in Umbria is full of tradition, beauty, and treats. And if you are planning a holiday in central Italy in the winter make sure to pack the right things; I’ve written a post all about staying warm in here in Umbria in winter.