Bless the Italians! Like everything else in life, they celebrate their Italian Christmas Traditions in a manner of different ways.
The non-Italian kids might be quite jealous to find that the Italian Christmas lasts almost a month! It seems quite unfair that the rest of the world has to wait 365 days for a celebration that only lasts 24 hours.
The Italian Ragazzi and Ragazze reward Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) with glasses of milk and freshly baked cookies, and sometimes even some snacks for his reindeer!
The Best of the Italian Christmas Traditions
Ciao! If our intro paragraph hooked you into reading on, you are going to be fascinated with the information that we are about to share.
Embark on a journey with us in exploring some of the essential Italian Traditions celebrated during the special Natale season:
A 31 Day Celebration
Christmas in Italy kicks into high gear around the 8th of December each year. This celebratory day is known as The Feast of Immaculate Conception. The day is a Public Holiday for the whole of Italy and is believed to be the day that Mary was proverbially reborn and saved by God that intervened in her life.
On this day, Christmas Trees are erected in homes and all over the town’s open spaces. The smell of freshly baked cookies wafts through the streets, presents are being bought and wrapped, and this day sees most businesses and schools close for the holiday season.
Each year, on this day, the Castel Sant’Angelo fires a cannon to earmark the celebration.
In the nine days leading up to Christmas in Italy, a period ensues that is referred to as the Novena. Traditionally this was when the shepherds traveled to meet the baby Jesus. In modern times the kids in the villages now dress up as little shepherds and surprise homes by knocking on the door and singing Italian Christmas songs in exchange for candy.
The most significant date in this feast that lasts a month is the 24th of December or Christmas Eve.
Noise and Games
The clang of church bells is widespread throughout all of the streets in Italy for the more traditional at heart. But for the energetic in nature, Zampognari; shepherds dressed in wooly cloaks and sheepskin can be found in piazzas playing bagpipes in pairs.
The scene in the typical Italian family’s house is that of everyone sitting at the table, cozy and surrounded by love. They are all indulging in a version of bingo known as Tombola.
An unusual approach
We all know the Italians take pride in the amount of love and detail they put into all things creative. When it comes to building their own unique versions of the Nativity Scene, this is no different.
They combine the traditional scene and add their own personal twists into their creation by adding Ferrari’s, football players, and a variety of other “Italian things.”
Not only are these masterpieces called presepi all individual and very personal. They are also created by their makers using all sorts of materials, including pasta and nuts, to name a few.
Eat and be Merry
What would an Italian Christmas Tradition be without the food? Traditional Christmas dinners will differ in each household. Some still adopt ‘The Feast of the Seven Fishes’ after returning home from Mass on Christmas Eve (Viglia di Natale).
Just as the name of the meal suggests, this a meal that consists predominately of seafood in all shapes and sizes – from clams to oysters…the list is endless!
The 25th of December is commemorated by feasting on a big dinner, called Cenone in Italy. This banquet means consuming meats and pasta, followed by an array of desserts containing nuts as a base ingredient.
One such dessert is the sweet bread called Panettone. Nuts in deserts bring prosperity in terms of fertility for the coming year.
Many hard-working Italians work their fingers to the bone every year, eagerly awaiting the 13th of December. You will be surprised to learn that this is when Christmas bonuses are paid in Italy by the companies that can afford to do so.
La Befana – the Christmas Witch of Italy
Christmas gifts to the children in Italy are believed to be given by the ever searching, good-hearted witch called La Befana. The legend goes that she was asked by the shepherds to accompany them on their journey to visit the baby Jesus. Apparently, she declined due to having had too many house chores to complete.
It is said that she later had a change of heart and followed suit. She is believed to still be searching for this child today, and leaves gifts for the kids, wherever she goes along in her journey.
To find out more about this magnificent and mysterious woman, read our La Befana Article.
Epiphany – The last day of Christmas
Italian Christmas Traditions last until the 6th of January the following year. While the kids wait for Le Befana, they are rewarded in today’s modern times by a lump of black licorice – this is an eye-wink at the mischievous side found in all of them! It’s ugly, but it’s sweet!
The final say
There are many traditions that can be adopted by anyone, whether they are in fact of Italian lineage or by someone who feels like celebrating a little differently.
We suggest you start off by learning how to say Merry Christmas in Italian – Buon Natale and grabbing a glass of spumante. Saluti!