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Christmas Italian Traditions

Christmas is the holiday in which Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, which for the Western Christian church falls on December 25th.


The Nativity, in fact, is often the subject of Christian art. Another way to represent this event is the nativity scene, which can be purchased ready-made or prepared at home. Some people place only a few figures, such as Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus; others instead create great scenography, with shepherds, mountains, sheep, shops and, of course, the ox and the donkey. The Three Kings, on the other hand, are added on the day of the Epiphany, although there are those who initially create a game of perspective by representing the Three Kings traveling, through the use of small statuettes, which on the day of the Epiphany they are replaced with other statues as large as the other characters and positioned near the Nativity. The figure of the baby Jesus must obviously be placed on the night of December 25th. It is possible to buy different nativity scenes, which vary according to the region, such as the Neapolitan, Bolognese, Marche or Genoese nativity scene.

Another way to represent the Nativity is the theatrical representation, known with the name of "Living Nativity".


During the Christmas holidays, children are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus. The figure of this big pot-bellied man with a long white beard derives from the legend of St. Nicholas. This saint, in fact, is known as "the protector of children". The story goes that St. Nicholas brought back to life three children killed by an innkeeper. In some countries of Northern Italy, children receive gifts on 6th December, the day on which the saint is celebrated.

In other cities of Northern Italy, such as Bergamo and Verona, the little ones traditionally look forward to the morning of December 13th, because when they wake up they could find the desired gifts.

A week before the happy morning, the children write a letter to Saint Lucia, declaring that they have been good and requesting the gifts they would like to receive. To thank the saint, on the night between 12 and 13 December, the little ones prepare a bowl with flour for the donkey, a cup of coffee for Santa Lucia, some bread for her coachman and a plate with biscuits, wine, nougat and fruit. Children must be careful not to be too intrigued, pretending to see the Saint at work! Upon awakening, in addition to gifts, the little ones also find sweets.

Santa Claus is certainly the greatest gift-bearer in our country. Some children look forward to Christmas Eve, as at midnight the gifts could magically appear under the tree. In other families, however, the gifts arrive on the morning of December 25th.

The figure of the pot-bellied man as we know him today, dressed in red and pulled by reindeer, is an invention of the 1930s.


In addition to the nativity scene, there is another symbol that fully represents Christmas in our country: the tree. The Christmas tree is generally decorated on December 8th, the day of the Immaculate Conception. It is a time when the whole family is reunited and everyone makes their own contribution.

The decorations, mainly composed of balls and lights, are created at home or bought ready-made. Today mostly artificial trees are used, which have the advantage of being able to be reused over the years. A little curiosity: the balls are used because the legend tells of a poor juggler, who went around the streets of Bethlehem during the birth of Jesus. The poor man was sad because he could not afford to bring a gift to the Child Jesus. artists made a show just for him, snatching a smile from the Child with his coloured balls. Another classic symbol of Christmas is the comet.

According to Italian tradition, the rest of the house is also decorated on 8 December, and this feast day is also dedicated to the preparation of the nativity scene.

Some Italian families, especially in Northern Italy, prepare the Advent Calendar. These are 24 boxes (or pockets) that represent the days until Christmas, starting from December 1st. A small gift for the children is placed in each pocket, such as a treat or small object.


The famous Christmas markets of Bolzano have German origins. Initially, they were called "Markets of San Nicola", as they were organized near the feast of the saint.

Around 1500 the markets became "Child Jesus Markets" and today they are also known as the "Advent Market", since they originally ended on December 24 (although today they continue until January 1st or 6th).


These days are also characterized by the many dishes that are prepared. Each region (and family) has their own cooking preferences for Christmas. Traditional dishes vary throughout Italy, but there are elements that cannot be missing, even if borrowed from other regions: pandoro and panettone.

On December 24th, that is Christmas Eve, a large dinner is prepared in the evening in most of the southern houses, exclusively with fish dishes.

In some families, at midnight, typical Christmas carols are sung; others instead go to church for the traditional Christmas mass and then hang around, or meet in the square to exchange greetings.

On December 25th, some children find the gifts under the tree, left by Santa Claus. A very important lunch is prepared, full of courses (the recipes are mainly based on meat), desserts (especially with honey) and dried fruit. The table is well decorated, in keeping with the recurring holiday. The colours that are mainly used are red and white.

The Italian dishes linked to the Christmas tradition are really many and vary from one region to another: for example in Friuli Venezia Giulia the turnip and cotechino soup (brovada and muset) is prepared, in Sicily the sfincione.

December 26th is Boxing Day, a day that became a holiday on the calendar in 1949. During this day, the leftover food from the previous days is eaten, or soups are prepared.


In central and southern Italy, the figure of the bagpiper is very common, that is a musician who goes around the streets of the villages playing the bagpipe, a very ancient wind instrument. He sometimes even knocks on the doors of houses, playing some music in exchange for an offer.

In the Aosta Valley, live nativity scenes are widespread around the cities. Children represent the main characters, while adults play the roles of craftsmen of the past and offer food and beverages to visitors.

In Sicily, in some mountain villages, bonfires are lit on the night of the 24th to warm the Child Jesus.

On the evening of Christmas Eve in some families legends and fairy tales are told to children, to entertain them before the arrival of Santa Claus.

During these holidays, people gather at home with friends and relatives to play cards or bingo.

The traditions related to Christmas are many and vary from family to family. It is precisely during these days that the customs and traditions rooted in their origins are rediscovered so that they can remain vivid over time.