Tag Archives: Christmas Traditions in Italy

Pictures of Christmas in Italy

Before the pictorial I want to throw in a video from LynnK.  She assures me that “this is a popular children’s Christmas song in Italy!”  

Well…That’s one Italian song I’m not dying for the Guys to sing.

a lights


Thought you all might want to see what Christmas looks like “across the pond.”


christmas in Italy 1The Vatican Takes Center Stage
On Christmas Eve, all eyes turn to Vatican City where the Pope says Midnight Mass. St. Peter’s Square displays a life-size Nativity scene as well as a 100-foot Christmas tree. While the Vatican is the center of Rome’s Christmas celebrations, there are many more ways to enjoy Christmas in Rome including markets, a Nativity museum and special church services.


christmas in Italy 2.jpgMilan’s Magical Holiday Feel
Milan’s cathedral (Duomo) looks magical during the Christmas season. The city of Milan is famous for its shopping and that’s no different at holiday time when Christmas markets fill the city. Locations include Castello Sforzesco,Piazza Sant’Ambrogio and the streets leading up to the Duomo.


christmas in Italy 3Christmas Lights in Turin
Each year, at the end of the November and just in time for Christmas the city of Turin presents Luci d’Artista, an installation of art exhibits using light as the medium. The displays transform the streets of the city into a magical, other worldly place.


christmas in Italy 4.jpgNaples: A Christmas Street of Artistry
Italians are crazy for presepi (Nativity scenes) and presepi-central is the street of Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples where craftsmen use techniques handed down for generations to create the traditional figurines of Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the Wise Men, as well as more contemporary figures like Pope Benedict and Barack Obama.
(Obama statues in Italy?  Why don’t we have Il Volo statues in the U.S.?  Someone get that started!)


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Herald the Zampognari
The zampognari are shepherds from Abruzzo and surrounding regions who play thezampogna, a bagpipe-like instrument. In days gone by, they came down from their work in the hills to entertain their families and others for Christmas. You can still see these shepherds at events throughout Italy, even strolling the streets of Rome during the festive season.  (Where’s Gianluca?)



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Christmas Market in Bolzano
Christmas markets are held throughout Italy but are particularly popular in the northern part of the country which has been influenced by the strong Germanic tradition of holiday markets. Bolzano’s Christmas market is the largest in Italy.

christmas in Italy 7Living Nativity Scenes
Italians enjoy the tradition of reenacting the birth of Jesus through live Nativity scenes. One of the largest takes place in Puglia where 250 residents of Tricase dress in period clothing. This photo captures the live Nativity pageant ofArmenzano, near Assisi. (Photo by Roberto Pollastrini)


christmas in Italy 8Siena Shares in the Holiday Spirit
The Tuscan city of Siena is filled with holiday cheer with Christmas markets in the city’s piazzas, Christmas concerts and the famous Christmas tree in the center of Piazza dei Salimbeni.


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La Befana
Santa Claus a.k.a Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) is a relatively new introduction to Christmas in Italy. The character most eagerly anticipated by Italian children is La Befana, a witch who rides around on her broom on the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th) delivering goodies.  (Are you sure that’s not my Aunt Rosie?)

christmas in Italy 10Christmas Eve: Feast of Seven FishesOn Christmas Eve, Italian families indulge in the traditional Christmas Eve (la Viglia) “Feast of Seven Fishes.” The tradition dates back to the days of Roman Catholic abstinence on holy days. “Seven” may relate to the number of sacraments or the number of days it took God to create the world.


christmas in Italy 11.jpgPanettone: The Italian Christmas Dessert
Reportedly, the average Italian family consumes 5.5 pounds of panettone – a cupola-shaped rich, buttery cake – per year and much of this is during the Christmas season. This delectable dessert has its origins in Milan.  (Ann, I even tried an Italian Bakery!  Can’t find it!)


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Buon Natale!
To wish your Italian friends “Merry Christmas” say Buon Natale!

Now there’s one greeting we all know!



Bits and Pieces on Christmas Traditions in Italy by mn Part 3

During Christmas time the tradition sees bagpipes (zampogne or ciaramedda) players dressed like shepherds, especially common in Abruzzo and Sicily but not only, going around cities and villages playing old Christmas tunes with their other original instruments like the flute (Friscaletto in Sicily).

il-gruppo - Copia

strumentimusic tamburine


So may are the popular Christmas songs that we are going to mention just a few of the most well known: “Tu scendi dalle stelle” here by Zampogne D’Abruzzo composed by S. Alfonso De’ Liguori (1696-1787)



An Abruzzo Christmas folk song     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIrIU6XFjzs

Two traditional Sicilian Christmas songs



This is a more modern but still very intense Ave Maria by F. De Andrè  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bdKqNayO13o

Of course, there then the classical cantata, so many that we would need lot of space to list them here, therefore we give only one as reference “the Christmas Cantata” composed by A. Scarlatti (Palermo 1660-Naples 1725) should anyone have the curiosity to listen to it search on You tube.

We conclude now with a very famous Italian saying reinforcing the family aspect of the Christmas Holiday. “Natale con i tuoi e Pasqua con chi vuoi” which can roughly be translated into: Christmas with your family and Easter with everyone else you like to be with.     The end.

Bits and Pieces on Christmas Traditions in Italy  by mn  – Part III

Pictures by mn                                                     

Videos: All credit to respective owners

Bits and Pieces on Christmas Traditions in Italy” by mn Part II

On 24th December at midnight, in the Roman Catholic churches, is held a special Midnight Christmas Mass. Many churches would display a Nativity Scene often with very ancient and precious little statues.

As well, on 24th December it is tradition to have at home a ‘Cena di Magro’ (a dinner with no meat, normally soup and fish or vegetable dishes) quite different from the big lunch of the 25th when, according to different regional traditions, you will have ravioli or cannelloni or tortellini and lasagne al forno with different type of sauces  (all kinds of stuffed pasta) usually proceeded by various antipasti like row and cooked ham, salame,  and soppressata, coppa and speck, such a great regional variety that it is impossible to mention everything …. to the above you add vegetables preserved under oil or vinegar like mushrooms, little pickled onions, roasted eggplants and peppers, and all kind of olives, green or black, big and small ones, seasoned or not.

It must be said that each Italian region has, besides the more common dishes, special local traditional recipes, like polenta with salsiccia, or pizzoccheri, risotto and canederli, lasagne al pesto , tortelli di zucca (type of ravioli filled with pumpkin pulp and amaretti crumbles) in northern Italy, cappelletti or fettuccine and ragu bolognese more in the central regions, to the above you just add more fish recipes such as typical Capitone (European Eel) popular in southern Italy.

The second course can be roasted chicken or boiled stuffed capon, roasted meat or fish, and savory tarts filled with artichokes or other greens,  all served with salad and/or cooked vegetables, again according to local products/traditions and furthermore…how to forget cheese!  But I will not even try to quote here all the various regional types of cheese, or wines, as all this would need a whole new chapter.

Panettone is the classical Christmas dessert but you also have the well known Tiramisu, different kinds of Torrone, Cannoli Siciliani, Monte Bianco cake, you can also enjoy the very ancient recipes like Castagnaccio which is a plain chestnuts flour cake, typical of the central regions seasoned with pines nuts and dried little raisins often sprinkled with herbs like rosemary or fennel seeds, but also the typical Panforte of Siena and I Buccellati in Sicily or Parrozzo cake in Abruzzo, and so many more! Of course these mentioned are just a hint as for each region the choice is really wide.

Then you will have dried fruits like figs – natural or stuffed with walnuts or covered with chocolate – apricots, prunes, cherries, and all kinds of nuts like hazelnuts from Piemonte, almonds from Sicily and the famous Bronte pistachios.



Bits and Pieces on Christmas Traditions in Italy  by mn  – Part II

Pictures by mn

*  If you are interested search torrone candy.  mfa

Bits and Pieces on Christmas Traditions in Italy by mn

Christmas is the Christian Holiday that each year celebrates the birth of Jesus and it is regarded a “family Holiday”. The major traditions in Italy are the Christmas tree, introduced from northern Europe only at the end of the XIX century and more popular in the north, and the Presepe (Nativity Scene) also known as a manger scene or crib, still very popular in southern Italy especially in Naples.

The Presepe tradition appears to have taken origin in ancient times from the cult of the little statues of the Lari (ancestors) of the Romans and Estruscan populations.  In Naples the tradition of Presepe is a must and there are artisans who reproduce the little statues adding each year new figurines so that it is not rare to find the most famous politicians or soccer players or other VIPs reproduced along with the very traditional ones, namely the Holy Family, villagers, the shepherds and the animals.


Santa Claus, Babbo Natale in Italian, is the old man always represented with the white beard that on the night of December the 24th passes through the chimneys and leaves presents for the children under their Christmas tree.

Santa Claus is said to be derived from the figure of Saint Nicholas (San Nicola) a saint especially worshipped in the city of Bari in the Puglia region. In villages and countryside it is quite common to have settings or enactments called “living Nativity scenes” with real people and animals and representation of ancient village life. People can stroll around looking and taking pictures and then have a bite at the “Bancarelle” (stands) selling local finger food and may be have a glass of hot wine to fight the cold.

Traditionally, Christmas tree and Presepe should be prepared on 8th December, date celebrating the Immacolata Concezione (Immaculate Conception) and marking the beginning of celebrations and other popular events called Processioni (Processions), a mix of religious rituals, prayers, music, chants and fireworks during which the statues of the Virgin Mary are taken around the streets of the city or village, usually with a band playing and marking the tempo and people following. Procession are more common in Southern Italy. Here a couple of examples of Procession in two different Sicilian cities:

Siracusa         http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SdKyNd9bvc

Termini Imerese    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_Y7olkTmL4

January, 6th, that marks the last day of Christmas Holiday Season, and is the other traditional Holiday. It is called La Befana, represented as an old woman flying through the sky on a broomstick to deliver small gifts and candies to children on Epiphany Eve (the night of January, 5th). Usually parents help children to hang a sock above the firestove to hold whatever La Befana brings, and if a child has not been very obedient he can easily find among other presents a big lump of coal (quite naturally made of sugar).

IMG_3448B - Copia IMG_3404 - Copia IMG_3450_2 - Copia


Bits and Pieces on Christmas Traditions in Italy  by mn  – Part 1

Pictures by mn                                                     

Videos: All credit to respective owners