Overview of Christmas in Italy

#City trips Overview of Christmas in Italy

Italy dazzles visitors year-round, but the Christmas season sprinkles extra magic across the country. From the twinkling lights of the holiday markets to concerts in historic piazzas, Christmas in Italy offers a feast for the senses. The celebrations blend ancient folk customs with deep religious traditions for an quintessentially Italian take on the festive season.

Holiday Dates and Traditions

The Christmas season in Italy revolves around several key dates and time-honored customs that visitors can experience.

Key Dates

Most Italians celebrate Christmas Eve on December 24 as the main holiday, with a huge family feast followed by Midnight Mass. December 25 and 26 are national holidays where most businesses will be closed. January 6 marks the final celebration of the season with Epiphany, when children receive gifts from the kind witch La Befana.

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Holiday Customs and Practices

Beautiful nativity scenes called presepi flood homes, churches and town squares across Italy throughout the Christmas period. Italians fast during the vigil dinner on Christmas Eve before tucking into seafood and meatless pasta dishes. Holiday sweets like panettone cake and torrone nougat are always on the menu. Kids write wish lists to Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) and elders share wise tales about La Befana’s candy and coal.

Christmas Markets and Events

Visiting the bustling mercatini di Natale (Christmas markets) is an essential Italian holiday experience. You’ll also find abundant Christmas concerts, plays and festivals.

Popular Markets by Region The Alpine Northern regions host world-famous markets in Trentino, Bolzano and Milan, while Tuscan gems like Arezzo and Florence lure travelers south. Don’t miss the Vatican City’s manger crafts market and the Piazza Navona Christmas market in Rome. Each fills the crisp, seasonal air with the scents of roasted chestnuts, mulled wine and fried sweets.

Concerts, Plays and Festivals Attending musical and theatrical performances is a beloved Italian tradition. Naples and Milan both put on elaborate street presepe festivals with hundreds of nativity scenes. Catch a Christmas concert at St. Peter’s Basilica or La Scala Opera House. Most churches will have holiday choirs and plays as well.

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Food and Drink for an Italian Christmas

Italy’s festive feasts feature regional culinary delights washed down with local holiday vinos. From seafood spaghetti to chocolate panettone, Christmas menus celebrate Italian cuisine at its finest.

Traditional Dishes and Ingredients Twinkling lights aren’t the only stars of an Italian Christmas; the food takes center stage!

Regional Specialties Each area has trademark treats, like panettone from Milan or cartellate crispy pastry from Puglia. While the flavors differ, staples like tortellini en brodo soup, codfish dishes and roast lamb grace most holiday tables. Save room for southern struffoli fried dough balls or Genoa’s pandoro sweetbread.

Desserts and Sweets Panettone and pandoro steal the dessert show, but most Italians also bake buttery biscotti, pine nut studded pignolata and icy gelato cake for Christmas. Chocolates like nocciolati Piemonte (hazelnut pralines) make perfect edible gifts.

Christmas Wines and Beverages

Washing down all those calories requires some excellent Italian holiday beverages. Bottoms up!

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Italian Sparkling Wines Nothing says “Buon Natale!” like popping Prosecco or Asti Spumante bubbles. For an elegant toast, try Franciacorta or Trento DOC metodo classico sparkling wines from Lombardy.

Other Festive Sips Sip zesty red San Pellegrino Chinotto soda or a hot mug of vin brûlé (mulled wine) from the Christmas markets. Coffee lovers can spike their espresso with a nip of Strega or amaretto liqueur.

Decorations and Gift Giving

Italians deck their halls with care using timeless holiday decorations passed through generations. They exchange small thoughtful regali (gifts) on Christmas Eve and Epiphany.

Tis the season for glittering lights and decked out trees across Italy.

Public Displays and Events Showstopping displays like the Vatican’s larger-than-life tree and life-size manger scene fill St. Peter’s Square. In Piazza Duomo, Milan’s Christmas tree stands over 100 feet tall! Most towns hold tree lighting ceremonies in late November to kick off the season.

Home Décor Customs

Italian families lovingly decorate presepi (nativity scenes) featuring handcrafted moss-lined mangers with terracotta Holy Family figurines. These are arranged beneath the tree or set up in a place of honor within homes.

Traditional Gift Ideas and Practices Christmas gift giving in Italy focuses less on material goods and more on quality time shared with loved ones.

Children vs Adult Gifts Babbo Natale (Santa) brings Italian children modest gifts on Christmas morning. But the real gift bonanza happens on Epiphany when La Befana arrives! Most adults exchange token gifts or lottery scratch cards on Christmas Eve.

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Where to Shop

Seek handmade crafts like terra cotta tree ornaments or lucky charms at Christmas markets. Foodie fare like panettone, wine and chocolate makes excellent Italian Christmas gifts. Support local artisans for the most unique local finds.

Places to Visit and Things to Do

From the Dolomites to Sicily, Italy brims with festive diversions for Christmas travelers.

Top Destinations and Attractions

Base yourself in any major city to experience Italy’s one-of-a-kind Christmas magic.

Cities and Towns Must-see locales like Rome, Venice, Milan and Verona sparkle under strands of glittering lights. Check out Naples’ elaborate San Gregorio Armeno street market filled with handmade nativity figurines. Most towns have a holiday version of their weekly market as well as abundant concerts.

Churches and Historical Sites Many churches and basilicas like St. Peter’s in Rome or the Duomo di Milano have special Christmas Eve and Christmas Day masses. The Pope conducts Mass in Vatican City on Christmas Eve. Living manger displays with actors and live animals recreate the nativity scene in Assisi.

Holiday Activities and Entertainment

Making merry is mandatory during an Italian Christmas!

Concerts and Performances From small choral concerts in neighborhood churches to the Teatro alla Scala’s opera season kickoff in Milan, holiday music fills the air. The Rome Sinfonietta performs Christmas classics at the Auditorium Parco della Musica.

Seasonal Tours and Exhibits See the ruins of Pompeii draped in Christmas lights or check out the 100 meter long tunnel of light display inside the Castel Nuovo Maschio Angioino castle in Naples. Many churches feature presepi displays while local museums showcase nativity art.


Christmas in Italy overflows with delightful seasonal traditions honed over centuries. Savor the sumptuous feasts, spirited festivities and abundance of Italian holiday magic waiting around every cobblestoned corner. From the snow-capped Dolomites to the sun-soaked Sicily beaches, visitors discover authentic Yuletide enchantment Italian style. Turn every journey into a masterpiece with GetTripTip.com. Experience the next-gen trip planning with our FREE trial!

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What date do Italians celebrate Christmas? Most Italians observe December 24th as the main Christmas celebration, with a vigil dinner and midnight church services, followed by December 25th as an official national holiday.

What do Italians eat for Christmas dinner? Seafood pasta, stuffed pastas, roast meats, regional dishes, and panettone with dessert wine are typical. Many observe the vigil fast until dinner.

What gifts do Italian children receive at Christmas? Children get modest gifts from Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) on Christmas morning. But the biggest gift haul comes on Epiphany from La Befana!

What are the most popular Christmas destinations in Italy? Major tourist cities like Rome, Venice, Florence and Milan host abundant holiday events. The northern Alpine Christmas markets are also very popular.

What beverages do Italians drink at Christmas? Sparkling wines like Prosecco and Asti Spumante are very popular. Other festive drinks include mulled wine, Italian soda, coffee liqueurs and digestifs like limoncello.

Aleksandra Chinchenko
Founder GetTripTip.com