Italy is full of tradition on an average day, but during the holidays you really get a sense of the Christmas spirit with lights and Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) everywhere! Italy is the spiritual home of about 1 billion Catholics around the world, so you’re bound to find lots of celebrations during the month of December leading up to Christmas day!
Enjoy this read of 10 Christmas Activities to do in Italy
1. December 8th – The Feast of Immaculate Conception – L’Immacolata Concezione
December 8th is the official Christmas kickoff known as the Feast of Immaculate Conception (a Roman Catholic holiday) where Italian households open up their boxes of trees and decorations and put on the lights! This is definitely the first Christmas Activity in Italy that you all need to know about. Recognised as a public holiday you will find schools and businesses closed, but have no fear because the malls and shops in big cities are always open ready for eager Christmas shoppers!
2. Live manger scenes – Presepe
Presepe is a live manger scene and Bethlehem look-alike set up in towns across Italy. Locals play the part of what everyday life in Bethlehem must have been like. You walk through a little town to then find at the end a live manger scene with baby Jesus-not yet placed until Christmas Day. Many towns serve hot crepes or sweets at the end the walk. My personal favorite Presepe scene is in Matera, a town in Puglia.
3. Panettone in Milan
Panettone is delicate Italian fruit cake that’s light and fluffy and to die for. This is a huge part of Italian Christmas culture with neighbors gifting Panettone to each other, friends bringing it over to Christmas Parties…there is always Panettone at the table during the holidays. Usually the hostess of the house will dust powered sugar on it and serve it up with a hot shot of espresso. Some are filled with custard-type creams, some topped with specialty chocolates and nuts…even Dolce and Gabbana have their own Panettone made by chefs in Sicily!
The history of Panettone making comes from Milan. If you’re in the area during the Christmas holiday you’ll be sure to find amazing Panetone at Christmas markets, in local bakeries, and stores.
4. Christmas markets
Italians are big on taking evening strolls, also known as the passeggiata. This is probably why there are so many Christmas markets in Italy. The way that cities are structured make them highly walkable. Check out our last post for a detailed list of the best Christmas markets around Italy!
5. Christmas trees in the centre
One thing that I always love to do during Christmas time is going to the city centre to see the big Christmas tree in the main square! If in Rome you can’t miss the magnificent tree at Piazza Venezia, and at St.Peter’s Square. If in Milan you can find the city’s tree at Piazza Duomo. Generally the city puts their Christmas tree in the main square!
6. The Pope’s message in Vatican square
Every year the Pope holds a midnight mass inside St.Peter’s Basilica and shares a beautiful message of hope and love. This is a bonus mass for the public because those who live in Italy know that the Pope speaks to the public every Wednesday & Sunday mornings, as well as organizes special days to visit children.
7. Skiing in Torino-a luxurious winter wonderland escape
The Ortisei Cavallino Bianco Ski resort is the best location in Italy for families wanting an all-inclusive white Christmas with all the bells and whistles. Enjoy a fancy hotel stay with a spa, skiing in the mountains, food included, all with full babysitting service! Leave the kids behind and sign them up for ski lessons while you enjoy a much deserved break.
8. Opera with Andrea Bocelli
Andrea Bocelli known as one of the best opera singers of our time often sings around Italy in top places like Milan, Venice, and Rome during the holiday period. If you’re planning on a luxurious and romantic Christmas evening then dress to the 9s to go hear Bocelli’s voice radiate throughout the opera house!
9. Christmas Wonderland in Rome
Brand new this year for 2019 is the Christmas Wonderland in Rome (Prati district) from the 20th of December to the 6th of January suitable for families with children. The Wonderland offers an ice skating rink, the North Pole to visit Santa and the elves, a jumping room, live shows, international street food, Christmas shopping, art exhibits and more! This is definitely a more interactive Christmas activity for kids to enjoy in the city.
10. January 6th-Epiphany Day – La Befana
La Befana, the Christmas witch, is an Italian character that gives children their stockings on the 6th of January-the Epiphany day. Don’t worry, she’s a nice witch although she rides a broom. The Epiphany day is also recognised as a public holiday. Among stores and Christmas markets you can find stockings for sale with the Befana doll attached, or outfits for sale to dress up as the Befana. Families generally go to each other’s houses to give children pre-made stockings bought in stores filled with Kinder eggs and Nutella cookies. And for the adults that like to shop, the January sales start the day after Befana!
Read about Christmas tree history and long traditions here