6 Italian Traditions to Celebrate Christmas in Italy Like a Local

Italy’s favorite season of the year is finally approaching: streets filled with sparkling decorations, houses decorated with ornaments, and bakeries smelling like sweet delights. Want to celebrate Christmas in Italy like a local? Keep reading…

Christmas is a magical time of the year across the world – a moment when families and friends come together to cherish a religious and heartfelt tradition of celebrations by exchanging gifts, sharing delicious and succulent meals, and singing Christmas carols. 

If you are visiting Italy during Christmas, you can expect a magical time filled with unique customs and traditions that vary across regions but are bound by a common feature of joy and a profound sense of community.

L’Immacolata Concezione — Feast of the Immaculate Conception

In Italy, Christmas celebrations officially start on the 8th of December which coincides with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. zyhis is when Italians start putting up the Christmas trees, baking cookies, and buying presents. The atmosphere becomes magical, leading up to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. On these days, Italians spend their time eating with their family and playing board games such as “La Tombola”.

For a lot of Italians, If they observe the catholic religion, they don’t eat meat, but rather fish-based meals on Christmas Eve.

The holiday season doesn’t end on the 25th of December. It continues on the next day as well. The 26th of December, known as Saint- Stephan’s Day,  is a national holiday in Italy.

Between the 26th and 31st of December, celebrations continue. Many business operations are closed and some use this time to rest before the start of the New Year.

La Befana

Finally, the festivities come to an end on the 6th of January which is the Befana/ Epiphany. La Befana is a national holiday where the legend says that an old witch comes through your house chimney to fill the kids’ stockings with chocolate. 

Besides these national holidays, the Italian traditions are not yet over. Here are six customs that make “Natale” in Italy so distinctive and unique.

CHRISTMAS MARKETS

In Italian, Christmas markets are known as “ Mercatini di Natale” – these are typical outdoor markets that are set up in historic areas, or at the“ piazza” around Christmas time where you can expect to taste local homemade delights, buy handmade gifts, and entertain yourself with live music performance. Each region of Italy is unique in its offering with each Christmas market featuring specialties of the region 

PRESEPI

“Presepi” means Nativity Scenes – these are showcases of miniatures depicting the biblical story of the birth of Jesus. You can expect to see “presepi” in churches, in people’s homes as well as in public spaces.

PANDORO & PANETTONE

It wouldn’t be Christmas if you didn’t see a Pandoro or a Panettone at someone’s house. Although Panettone and Pandoro are known worldwide, they are the most common desserts eaten in Italy during Christmas. They are often given as a gift to family and friends and shared after a meal for the whole festive season until the new year.

LE CASTAGNE

“Castagne” are roasted chestnuts – these are typical fall and winter delicacies sold as street food at Christmas markets.

The aroma and the taste of roasted chestnuts are usually associated with the Christmas season and often contribute to this festive atmosphere. These snacks are enjoyed while buying last-minute Christmas gifts or even attending a holiday event. 

TORRONE

Torrone is a popular sweet treat that is often available during Christmas time. It is made of sugar, honey, egg whites, and toasted nuts (usually almonds or hazelnuts), all cooked until it is sweet and chewy.

Torrone are typically Italian sweets shared in many Italian households or given as a gift during this period of the year. 

IL CENONE DI NATALE

The big supper is “il Cenone di Natale”.  Italians are known for their culinary skills; thus, you can not expect any less during Christmas. 

With the days leading up to Christmas, Italian tables are filled with an array of succulent traditional Italian dishes such as:

  1. Appetizers such as cured meats or cheese platters
  2. Pasta or risotto
  3. Lasagne 
  4. Fish or seafood dishes
  5. Meat such as pork or lamb
  6. Vegetables cooked in various ways 
  7. Salads
  8. Desserts such as cannoli, pandoro, panettone, torroni
  9. Drinks such as limoncello, spumanente or grappa 

Italian dinners are known for their abundance and the variety of food. Again each region will serve the speciality of the location.  One thing is for sure – you can expect to gain a few pounds at this time of the year 

To conclude, If you are celebrating Christmas in Italy, you will experience a moment of peace, gratitude, and appreciation for the year coming to an end.

Urmi Hossain

Urmi Hossain - a self-published author, blogger, mentor, YouTuber, and advocate of women's empowerment. She was born and raised in Italy, now living in Canada. She considers herself Italian by birth, Bengali by blood, and Canadian by law. Her parents are indeed from Bangladesh who moved to Italy after their marriage and Urmi was born afterward. Her birth city is Palermo, Sicily where she lived for 9 years, and then moved to the region of Lombardia where she lived in Milan for a decade. She has completed her elementary and high school in Milan. She has received her university degree in Finance in Montreal, Canada where she is currently residing and working in the financial sector. She loves traveling and going back to her home country, Italy very often. Her favorite city in Italy is the vibrant and warm city of Rome. As she says, you can never get tired of the history in this city. In her free time, she loves cooking new pasta recipes which is one thing she makes with so much love and inspiration. She considers herself a big pasta eater. Besides trying new recipes, she enjoys very much reading thriller books, volunteering for organizations dedicated to women's empowerment and writing.

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