Italian Christmas Traditions

Whether you’re wandering through the streets admiring the twinkling markets and breathing in the sweetness of roasted chestnuts, attending mass in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, or feasting on Italian festive delicacies, there’s much to enjoy about Christmas in Italy.  

The official Italian Christmas begins early - on the 8th of December - and extends well into the New Year, boasting its own unique customs. For Italians, the festive season is less about exchanging gifts. The focus is on Catholic traditions, and bringing families, neighbours, and loved ones together around the table. 

“We have an expression that we Italians live by”, explains Stefano Nirta, Regional Destination Manager. "Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi,” which translates roughly as ‘Christmas with your family, Easter with whoever you want.’ To not be with family at Christmas is frowned upon, even today. 
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Christmas Markets

All across Italy’s cities, Christmas markets pop up, where you’ll find delicious vin brulé (mulled wine) to sip on, an array of artisanal and handmade crafts, and delicious Italian pastries and sweets. Discover a few of our favourite seasonal markets. 

Florence 

In the Piazza di Santa Croce of Florence, you’ll find a German-style wooden stall market with the city’s white Gothic cathedral as a spellbinding backdrop.  

Verona

Where star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet fictitiously resided, the Piazza dei Signori in Verona is filled with starry lights for a romantic Christmas.  

Rome

Rome’s best market has to be in Piazza Navona, where you’ll find not only traditional Italian crafts but also entertainers amid beautiful architecture.  

Sicily

You’ll find many events taking place in Sicily to celebrate the start of the festive scene, including street performances. 
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Italian Bagpipers

Move over carol singers! A more unique custom that’s found in southern Italy and Rome is that of the zampognari - bagpipe players who are dressed as shepherds in traditional sheepskin and wool outfits, with leather leggings and a peaked hat to boot. The zampognari go house to house collecting donations. This stems from a tradition dating back to ancient Rome in which bagpipe-playing shepherds would travel down from their homes in the mountains to earn extra cash during Christmas in the city piazzas. Legend has it that the shepherds played the bagpipes for Jesus on the night of his birth. 
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Novena

The nine days in the lead up to Christmas Day are known as the Novena, a time believed to be when the Wise Men once journeyed to the birth of baby Jesus. In Italy today, this is both a time of prayer and of performances. Children, dressed as biblical characters, may recite Christmas poems door to door in exchange for sweets, churches open up for hymns and music, and the great theatres put on opera and ballet shows. If they haven’t already, Italian children write intricately decorated letters of love and gratitude to their parents. These are then tied up like gifts and hung in the home until Natale (Christmas). 
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Are you ready to enjoy some Italian traditions this Christmas?

Citalia have 95 years’ experience in tailoring authentic Italy holidays. Our Italy Experts are on hand every step of the way to help you create a memorable Christmas in Italy, all you’ve got to do is call!  

Call us today to speak to one of our Italy Experts for further travel advice, hotel recommendations or to begin planning your next Italian holiday.
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