Rome is a top Italian city to visit during the Christmas holiday season and the place where the celebration of Christmas originated. The first Christmas mass was said at the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore and the earliest known permanent nativity was created for the Rome Jubilee in 1300.
Here are the top Rome Christmas sights during the Christmas holiday season, from early December through Epiphany on January 6. Enjoy more pictures taken in December in our Christmas in Rome Photo Album.
Piazza Navona Christmas Market
In December Piazza Navona, Rome's famous Baroque square, is transformed into a huge Christmas market. You'll find stands selling all kinds of Christmas sweets, toys, nativity figures, decorations, and gifts. There's a merry-go-round and Babbo Natale, Father Christmas, makes an appearance to delight the kids. A large nativity scene is erected in the square later in December, too. See more about Piazza Navona
Saint Peter's Square
Each year a huge Christmas tree is erected in Saint Peter's Square. A life-size nativity is also set up but usually not unveiled until Christmas Eve. Thousands of visitors flock to Saint Peter's Square when the Pope says midnight mass on Christmas Eve inside Saint Peter's Basilica (in the square it's shown on big screen TVs) and delivers his Christmas message at noon on Christmas Day from the window of his apartment above the square. December 13 there's a colorful parade to Saint Peter's Square for Santa Lucia Day. See more about Saint Peter's Square
Santa Maria Maggiore Christmas Crib
The nativity in Santa Maria Maggiore is said to be the oldest presepe or permanent nativity scene. It was carved in marble by Arnolfo di Cambio in the late 13th century, a commission for the first Rome Jubilee held in 1300. Although originally displayed in the church, it's currently on display in the museum of Santa Maria Maggiore. Below the altar is a reliquary said to contain pieces of the original manger. It's kept in a niche the same dimensions as the cave where Jesus was born. The first Christmas mass was said in Santa Maria Maggiore. The bells are rung at midnight to signify the start of Christmas.
Nativity Scene Displayed at the Church of Saints Cosma and Damiano
The Church of Saints Cosma and Damiano, above the forum, displays one of the largest nativity scenes (open Friday - Sunday except in August, 9:00-1:00 and 3:00-6:00). Commissioned by Charles III of Naples, it includes not just religious figures but also intricate figurines of people from everyday life. Six master woodcarvers worked on the scene for forty years, adding new figures each year. Figurines representing royalty are dressed in fine fabrics. This presepe started the Naples style nativity, which still includes figures from everyday life. The city of Rome bought it and restored it in the 1930's. I was shown the presepe and Santo Bambino (below) as a guest on a Context Travel Rome walking tour.
Santo Bambino in the Church of Santa Maria Aracoeli
Lights, Ice Skating and Roasting Chestnuts
Menorrah in Piazza Barberini
In addition to Christmas festivities, Rome celebrates several other holidays in December. Here's more about what to do in Rome in December.