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.
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.
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.
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.
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.