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Christmas and Winter Holidays in Italy

Italian Festivals and Events for the Winter Holidays

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Italy celebrates Christmas and the winter holidays with special events and festivals. Italy's winter holiday season generally starts with the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, a national holiday, and runs through Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas, on January 6. Then Carnevale, Italian carnival, is celebrated throughout Italy in late winter. Italian National holidays in winter are December 8, 25, and 26 and January 1 and 6.

Find out more about each of these winter holiday traditions by clicking on the links.

Christmas in Italy

vatican christmas tree photo
© by Martha Bakerjian, licensed to About.com

In addition to nativity scenes, Christmas lights and trees are becoming popular, too. Vatican City erects a huge Christmas tree in Saint Peter's Square along with a life-size nativity scene. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are often spent with family, and big meals are prepared. There's often a midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The day after Christmas, Saint Stephen's Day, is also a national holiday. You can find out more about special decorations and events with the link above.

If you're looking for an Italian themed Christmas gift, check our Italy Gift Guide for recommended books about Italy, films set in Italy, and Italian music.

Italian Christmas Markets

rome christmas pictures, piazza navona christmas market
© by James Martin, Europe Travel

Prior to Christmas, Italian Christmas markets (Mercatino di Natale) start popping up in many Italian cities and towns. These range from small local markets to huge daily Christmas markets in Naples that start around December 13, Santa Lucia Day. Some of the best Christmas markets are in the northern regions where there's a German heritage. In Rome, Piazza Navona holds a huge fair with Babbo Natale, Father Christmas. The link above has more about Italy's top Christmas markets.

Presepi - Italian Nativity Displays

naples nativity photo, naples presepe picture
© by Martha Bakerjian, licensed to About.com

Traditionally, the main focus of Christmas decorations in Italy is the presepe, a Nativity scene or Christmas crib. The Christmas crib is said to have originated with St. Francis (see Saint Francis in Italy) and the craft of carving nativity figures started in the 13th century. Today Naples is famous for making nativity figures and is the top place to see nativity scenes. Most churches and houses put up some kind of nativity display. Some towns put up elaborate displays in a main piazza, too.

Presepi Viventi - Living Nativities

Nativity pageants often take place on December 24 - 26 and again for Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas, celebrated on January 6. People in costumes act out the parts for the nativity, some with as many as 500 participants. Pageants held on Epiphany often include a procession to the Cathedral. You can read about some unusual pageants with the link above.

What to See in Rome During Christmas Season

rome christmas photo
© by Martha Bakerjian, licensed to About.com
Rome is one of Italy's top destinations for Christmas season travel. Rome has a large Christmas market, nativity displays, and several huge Christmas trees. Of course you can easily visit Saint Peter's Square from Rome, too. Our guide has the top Christmas sights in Rome.

New Year's Eve Celebrations in Italy

New Year's Eve is La Festa di San Silvestro, celebrated December 31. Fireworks, music, and dancing are part of the celebrations and, as usual, food is one of the stars of New Year's Eve. Parties often last until sunrise to welcome the first morning of the new year. Check the link above to find the top places to celebrate New Year's Eve in Italy - and be sure to wear your red underwear.

Epiphany and la Befana

la befana photo
© by Martha Bakerjian, licensed to About.com
Epiphany, January 6, is the day children traditionally receive their gifts - not from Santa Claus but from La Befana, an old woman (some call her a witch) who flies around on a broomstick the night of January 5 delivering gifts. Children hang up their stockings on January 5 before they go to bed and hope to find them filled with goodies the next morning. On the religious side, living nativities and processions often take place for Epiphany. In Vatican City, hundreds of pilgrims dressed in ancient costume parade to the Vatican for a special morning mass. January 6 is a national holiday.

Carnevale - Italy's Carnival Celebration

venice pictures, carnevale pictures
© 2009 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.
Carnevale, also known as carnival or mardi gras, is celebrated in Italy and many places around the world 40 days before Easter, a final party before Ash Wednesday and the restrictions of Lent . Although Venice is famous for its carnevale celebrations, Carnevale is celebrated throughout Italy and events often include costume parties, elaborate masks, and parades. Festivities may start two to four weeks before the actual Carnival date (see Carnevale dates by year). Italy has some really unique and unusual Carnevale events, too. You can read about them by clicking the link above.

Hotels and Places to Stay in Rome

Rome and Vatican City are very crowded during Christmas season and many hotels charge high season prices. Since hotels fill up quickly, it's a good idea to book in advance. Click on the link above to see suggested places to stay in Rome.
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