Where to spend Christmas in Italy
Christmas in Italy is a solemn holiday, a great religious and family event. During these days not only temples and houses are filled with the comfort and sensation of an unusual miracle, but also festively decorated Italian streets, numerous squares, noisy towns and small cozy mountain villages...
The Christmas celebration starts on the evening of December 24. This is Christmas Eve. At this time many of big Italian families sit down at the festive table. Although the pre-Christmas supper is not as important and solemn here, as, for example, in Poland, it is still a warm and domestic event that unites family that got together in very special way. Yes, the Italians are a very family nation. This fact is completely proven on December 25 – on the very day of the Christmas celebration.
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Christmas traditions in Italy
Italian Christmas traditions are diverse and quite interesting. Of course, they are not limited to "throwing things out of windows," which is a common believe of tourists. And quite frankly, for a long time now almost no one throws things out :) While children are playing in fabulous Babbo Natale (Christmas Grandfather), adults are thinking ...
Where to go to see the Christmas fair
Fairs, which can be called pre-Christmas, begin in Italy during the Advent period (this is the Catholic analogue of Lent). Fairs often last until the first of January, capturing the brightest and the most festive part of the Christmas period in Europe.
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The most famous Christmas fair in Italy attractes guests with the glitter of lights and cheerful bustle in Bolzano, the capital of the autonomous province with the same name. This is in the area of Trentino-Alto Adige in the north of Italy, the world-famous center of alpine skiing and mountaineering. The scale of the fair in Bolzano rivals with the city of Trento, located at the foot of the Alps.
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Another "Christmas center" for lovers of fairs is in exquisite Florence. Also the Christmas mood is especially skillfully created in Naples and Rome. The festive Eternal City awaits you on Piazza Navona. You want something unusual? You can organize a Christmas holiday in Italy in the ancient city of Candelara, where the Festival of Candles is held before Christmas. Or visit the fairs in Merano, a city that has long been known among the fans of thermal waters. Or visit the small cozy Alpine town of Bressanone. By the way, here you will be treated with delicious mulled wine and not only it;)
On Christmas Eve, the Italian table is full of fish and seafood. For example, perch in white wine, cod cooked on a special steam (or dried), fried eel, pasta (spaghetti) with tuna or with shellfish. Also mushrooms are popular before Christmas (you should not forget about truffles).
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During the Italian Christmas dinner, eyes are lost because of the choice of meat dishes. In many families, lamb meat is prepared for a solemn meal. Some regions have their own special recipes for dishes, which are most often prepared for Christmas. These are different varieties of lasagna with several kinds of meat, numerous sausages and much more. In the festive menu you may even see soups cooked from... thistles!
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Popular Christmas sweets and desserts in Italy are Pandoro (looks like a cupcake), nut nougat and, of course, Panettone, which is somewhat like an Easter cake. If you make a choice in favor of a Christmas holiday in Calabria, you can try figs in chocolate and cedar sweets with bergamot. Sweet chocolate "pizza" with nuts and fruits is baked in the Marche region, and in Trentino the Christmas strudel is perfectly prepared.
The Holy Mass of the Nativity
The center of Christmas celebration for those who stay in Rome is the St. Peter’s Cathedral in Vatican. A week before the celebration on St. Peter's Square, the main fir tree is lit and decorated. On December 24, people come here from all over Rome and from anywhere else to meet Christmas together with the Pope.
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At the same time the festive religious services begin throughout Italy. Some people always visit the Mass late at night, while others rush to the church only in the morning. Even if you have never been to a Catholic church, it's worth to come here at Christmas. At least, in order to look at one of the main attributes of the celebration of the Nativity of Christ in Italy – Nativity Scene or "presepio."
Italy – the land of Christmas Nativity Scene
The symbolic reproduction of Christmas (a sculptural composition, a puppet theater or a "live theater") it is a world wide tradition that was born in Italy in the 13th century. It was then that Giovanni Francesco Bernardo, today better known as Francis of Assisi, recreated the evangelical scene of Christmas for the first time as a living scene.
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Today, Italian Nativity scenes are renowned throughout the whole world because of their beauty, as well as by the variety of forms and variations. Among the best known – a nativity scene in Naples, as well as, for example, the scene in the Archbishop's palace in Florence. A very simple and expressive Christmas sculptural composition is in Rome, in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. On December 24 a large Nativity scene on St. Peter's Square in the Vatican is traditionally opened: this is a fairly young tradition, which was established in 1982 by Pope John Paul II.
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It is a wonderful idea to bring a small Christmas composition from Italy and it can be realized at any Christmas fair. At this time, almost every town in Italy turns into an exhibition of Nativity scenes: even the house where there is no Christmas tree, it will be decorated with the figures of Joseph, Mary and little Jesus. Often next to this scene you can see the fir branches, and the red flower of Poinsettia ("Christmas star"). This flower, like the red color in general, symbolizes Christmas in Western Europe.
Where to spend Christmas in Italy
Active holiday: the Alps and South Tyrol
If you are interested in an active Christmas holiday in Italy, then ski adventures is waiting for you in Trentino-Alto Adige (South Tyrol). First of all in Bolzano and Trento. Here you can quickly and comfortably rent a hotel, visit the Christmas fair. And, of course, try special festive dishes: bread balls with ham, gnocchi with spinach, Tyrolean pretzels, apple strudel.
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The Nativity scenes are set up in churches before Christmas. If you want to make sure of this, you can visit the Cathedral of St. Vigil on the Cathedral Square in Trento. The history of the cathedral started long time ago, even before the 11th century. Here you can see the interweaving of four styles (Romanesque, Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque), as well as see the remains of the early Christian basilica that once existed at the site of the cathedral.
Roman Holidays: Christmas in the Vatican
Travelers, especially those who are traveling to Italy for the first time, strive to get to Rome and Vatican before Christmas. Many Roman hotels and apartments are located near the St. Peter's Cathedral. Among them, for example, La Cupola Apartment.
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By the way, Christmas in Rome is quite warm: the temperature is near + 7 ... + 15 and can even somewhat disappoint the fans of snow and frost. But if it does not rain such weather is perfect for visiting Roman sanctuaries and taking photos on the background of the Eternal City's attractions.
Christmas in Florence: the festive fair and much more
Florence is famous not only for its Christmas fairs, the largest of which takes place on the square of the Holy Cross (Piazza Santa Croce). At this time, tens of thousands of lights on the Christmas tree are sparkling on the Republic Square. The symbol of the city, the Duomo – the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore – is prepared for Christmas services, like other churches in Florence.
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On the way to a cozy hotel or on a city tour during festive time, you can notice a lot of people wearing something red. For example, a serious businessman wearing a bright red tie or a strict policeman in red socks. Do not be scared, they are not crazy: the tradition of playing Babbo Natale, dressed in a red suit is not alien to policemen before the holiday :)
Christmas in Venice: a fairytale on water
Christmas in Venice is a holiday in the homeland of the amazingly delicious Christmas dessert "Pandoro", that was respected among Venetian aristocrats back in the 18th century. After having tasted the unusual cupcake on the eve of the holiday somewhere in the Christmas village or on the St. Stephen's Square, go to St. Mark's Basilica. The most solemn service in the city and other events dedicated to the Nativity of Christ will be held right here.
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On Christmas, the Venetians decorate the gondolas and vaporetto (something like a river tram) beautifully. You can even order a holiday trip in the company of an elegant gondolier. In any hotel or tourist center it is worth to find out which Venice attractions can be visited on Christmas Day. December 25 is a day off almost everywhere. But fabulously beautiful Venetian temples – both Catholic and Orthodox – are open on this day until the evening! By the way, the Orthodox Italians celebrate Christmas "according to the old style," that is, on December 25.
Where to spend Christmas in Naples? To Babbo Natale!
Christmas in Naples is, above all, the famous Naples Nativity scene. In Naples, in addition to the "permanent" attractions, there is a whole street of nativity scenes, dedicated to St. George of Armenia (Via San Gregorio Armeno). And nearby, in Lago Patria and in Varcaturo, children and adults can meet fabulous Babbo Natal: that's where his Neapolitan "address" is.
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At Christmas, it is better to go with your whole family or a friendly company to Naples. Order dinner in advance and get ready for the fact that at 8 pm on December 24, cafes, bars and restaurants are closed (if you're lucky, you can find a small bar in the center that will be opened). On December 25 a very limited number of establishments operate. All people go to the temples, then arrange a festive family meals at home. Tourists sleep in hotels after a night service or walk around the city, enjoying the views and evening lighting... The most lucky manage to visit the Neapolitan family and enjoy the real holiday on Christmas.
Christmas without fervour: Calabria
If your plans do not include a clash with a crowd of tourists, you can travel a little. After all, such a Christmas variety is only once a year ...
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Ancient architecture and wonderful living nativity scenes (folk Christmas theaters) are waiting for you in Reggio di Calabria – an old town on the toe of the Italian "boot". Calabria protects tradition, so here you can relive Christmas in an old Italian style. If you like the winter sea, you can stay in the hotel on the beach. And for dinner, be sure to order fish and seafood, for which the seacoast of Calabria is famous.
History comes to life: the Genga
The Commune of Genga (the Marche region in the province of Ancona) is famous for the largest living nativity scene, with more than 300 people taking part. All this action takes place right in the gorge Frasassi (Grotte di Frasassi), where there are natural caves of fantastic beauty.
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While visiting this area, pay attention to the ancient Benedictine Abbey of San Vittore (St. Victor). Its history dates back the 10th century. A monastery temple was once converted from an ancient Roman temple. Now it is a sample of the Romanesque style in sacral architecture. In addition, in Genga you can organize a wonderful winter vacation among pine forests and colored rocks, while enjoying the natural riches of the region ...
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Italy can offer way more Christmas surprises: Christmas miracles take place not only in every city, but also in almost every village. Of course, you will not be able to see them all at once. And that means only one thing: after Christmas, you will probably want to come here again. Of course, for the carnival!