Christmas in Italy is a very big deal, it’s probably the biggest holiday. Schools and most offices close the day before Christmas Eve. There are no newspapers on Christmas day and the day after. The only place where you can do some very last minute shopping is at big malls but just for a couple of hours early in the morning.
The holiday season here in Italy actually starts on December 8th. On that day people start putting up Christmas lights and decorations. A lot of Christmas related events start on that day in every major Italian city. But, the best part is that they open all the Christmas markets. I love Christmas markets, even if they all sell the same things and they’re usually super crowded. The holiday season ends on January 6th.
Here in Milan we celebrate just on Christmas day. In my family, we usually open our gifts in the morning. Then we have a very long lunch, sometimes it can last until 5 in the afternoon.
Different Italian regions, and sometimes even different cities in the same region, have different Christmas traditions. In Bergamo, which is another city in Lombardy, they get gifts on the 13th of December, the day of Santa Lucia. In Southern Italy, they start celebrating with a big dinner on Christmas Eve and then they also celebrate on Christmas.
Along with amazing Christmas trees and elaborate Christmas lights, presepi (nativity scenes) are very common. They even do contests in a lot of cities. So you can find hand carved presepi, presepi made of chocolate, and sometimes even living nativity scenes with real people and animals.
When I was little, we used to make our presepe on our fireplace. My sister and I painted this sky with a lot of stars on a big piece of paper and we used that as a background. We used to buy moss to use as terrain (so accurate for a scene taking place in the desert!). And then we had a lot of model figures that we liked to misplace every day, which made our parents crazy. Nowadays, we just put a wreath outside the door.
Of course food is very important for a nice Christmas celebration. Panettone (originally from Milan) and pandoro (from Verona) are the typical Christmas sweet treat. They can be found just around the holiday season, both in grocery stores (some brands are good, others not so much) and bakery/patisseries (the good stuff). As I told you in my Christmas tag, you don’t eat both panettone and pandoro, but you have to pick a side. Unless you’re like me and you find Italians a bit too obsessed with their food.
Torrone is also something you see a lot around the holiday season. Another typical sweet treat is struffoli, but they are from the South and sadly we don’t get a lot of them here.
The holiday season doesn’t end until the 6th of January. December 26th, Saint Stephen’s day, is another national holiday. Families get together for another round of eating a very long meal. It’s okay to use leftover from Christmas, but, in my experience, most of the times people cook a lot of fresh food again.
The next thing to celebrate is New Year’s Eve. There aren’t that many traditions for that night. It depends a lot on how old you are and what you like to do. Some people go dancing at clubs, which is very expensive. In some major cities there are concerts, but they’re usually outside and very cold. You can find fireworks almost everywhere, even in small town. Of course, the most traditional thing about New Year’s Eve is food and drinks. People usually have lentils, which symbolize good fortune and money, and they also have cotechino, which is a kind of meat.
The last day of the holiday season is the 6th of January, Epiphany. Kids get stockings full of candies from la befana and families get together for yet another lunch (but not as big as the one you have on Christmas day).
What is like Christmas in your country? What is your favorite Christmas tradition? What about food and decorations?