The Italian word for Christmas is “Natale”
Christmas in Italy is filled with celebrations, music, food and appreciation of the religious significance of the holiday.
All Christmas holidays in Italy are called “vacanze Natalizie“, for Italian children usually start at around the 22 of December of each year and run until the 6th of January.
La vigilia di Natale: Christmas Eve (on 24 December)
Il Natale: Christmas Day (on 25 December)
Santo Stefano: Boxing Day (on 26 December)
Vigilia di Capodanno: New Year’s Eve (on 31 December)
Capodanno: New Year’s Day – (on 1 January)
L’Epifania: Epiphany – (on 6th January)
1. How to say Merry Christmas in Italian
Buon Natale – Merry Christmas! -> comprise Christmas Eve plus Christmas Day
Buone feste – Happy Holidays! -> comprise all the Holidays
Buon anno – Happy New Year! -> Only for New Year’s Day
Buona Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo -> comprise Christmas Eve, Christmas Day plus New Year’s Day.
2. Christmas Decorations and Christmas Trees
In Italy Christmas officially starts with the Day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary on December 8.
This is usually when decorations go up (both on the streets and inside Italian homes) and when some Christmas markets start.
Decorations and huge Christmas trees can be found in main piazzas, like in front of the Colosseum or in Milan’s Piazza Duomo.
Christmas decorations in Italy include the nativity scene, called Presepio or Presepe.
The Presepio represents in miniature the Holy Family in the stable.
The crib is made up of Mary, Joseph and the new baby Jesus. Also included in the crib are the shepherds and the three wise men carrying gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.
Some cribs are very elaborate and can even have angels hanging above the crib. Others include animals, rivers and tree.
The cities of Rome, Naples and the Vatican all have famous cribs. Most of Italy’s cribs are made in Naples and this city, in particular, has a lot of competition for the best crib.
In Italy, the Christmas tree is not the only green life seen in the house during the festive season.
Another plant is known as “Stella di Natale” (poinsettia) is relatively famous.
You will see trucks selling these plants almost everywhere.
It is a symbolic Christmas item in Italy.
Italians usually put some light to a balcony, a star, a little Santa Claus on a wall, but nothing more, they prefer to dedicate attention at the inside, especially in the South of Italy.
3. Gift Giving
Italians exchange gifts in multiple ways during the holiday season.
Most people exchange gifts with children hoping that they will find presents under the tree from Babbo Natale. (Father Christmas)
Another children gift-giving day in Italy is Epiphany, which falls in January.
Celebrations include the legend of La Befana, an old woman who delivers gifts to children the night before Epiphany. She places gifts in children’s stockings as they hang by the fire.
4. Traditional Christmas Meals
The Christmas season is a time for special dishes in Italy,
- On Christmas Eve, ‘Vigilia di Natale‘, a traditional Italian dinner consists of fish and seafood with the “feast of the seven fishes” as meat is not eaten on Christmas Eve.
A typical Christmas lunch, il pranzo, or dinner in Italy would typically have dishes of crostini with liver pate, lamb (l’agnello) with vegetables or tortellini.
Homemade fettuccine and ravioli are often served.
Many Christmas dishes are sweet.
Panettone is an airy sweet bread studded with candied fruit and raisins.
Pandoro is another sweet bread, this one missing the candied fruit but adding a dusting of powdered sugar.
Sweets with nuts and almonds, called torrone, are common at the meal.
These sweets may include also panforte.
In Naples eat struffoli, which are balls of fried dough drizzled with honey and sprinkles and then stacked into a little pyramid.
5. Spend time with Family
The most important tradition in Italian Christmas is spending time with family: during all these days Italians spend a lot of time at home together, having abundant lunches and dinners with relatives and friends, and playing traditional games.
The more traditional game is called “Tombola” a traditional raffle born in Southern Italy, that is similar to bingo: is very popular because is very easy to play and kids literally love it but is not the only traditional game for Holidays.
Many card games are played with French or Italian playing cards, and other with special cards, as the Italian game called “Mercante in Fiera” (Merchant in the Fair).
6. Most Popular Italian Christmas Songs
The most popular Italian Christmas carol is “Tu scendi dalle stelle” written in 1732 by Saint Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori.