Christmas is a magical time and Italy is no exception. Ancient streets are illuminated with Christmas lights and majestic trees are strung up in the main squares. You can even see Preseppi or Manger Scenes.
The air may be nippy and the days may be shorter, but the trade off? Fewer tourists and a glimpse into this magical time of the season.
While America and Italy share many common Christmas traditions, including Babbo Natale (Santa Claus), below I have compiled a list of Italian traditions that differ from our own.
German Christmas markets litter the towns. Florence has one every year in Santa Croce. In fact, just about every city has them. A big one is in Bolzano, which you can read about here(Link Coming Soon!). I suggest you try the vin brulee, or hot spiced wine as you stroll through the market.
While in America the occasional house might have a small manger scene, it isn’t exactly a huge staple like the Christmas tree. In Italy, however, it is. You can see large Presepis in squares and churches, and smaller ones inside the family home.
What is a Presepi? Basically it is a manger scene with statues and dolls of when baby Jesus was born.
Pandora and Panettone
Pandora and Panettone are traditional Christmas cakes that people buy. My boyfriend’s family, for example, has about 3 or 4 (on top of other desserts), so they last a long time even after Christmas.
Personally, I prefer the Pandora cake over Panettone, but I suggest trying both and deciding for yourself!
Sorry to say but there are no stockings hung on the fireplace in Italy for Christmas! Italians hang stockings for Befana, which is celebrated on the eve of January 6th. Befana has a “Witch” instead of Santa Claus that comes and fills the stockings. In fact, Bufana means Witch in Italian. You can read more about it here.
Capodanno – New Year’s Eve
Yes, that’s right, red underwear. It is common to gift red underwear for New Years, or Capodanno, because it is a tradition to wear red underwear to help bring luck in the new year.
Some other New Years traditions are to eat lentichi, a vegetable called lentil.
Italians also have a saying: “Whatever you do on New Years Day, you will do for the rest of the year.” So try to start out the first day with some good habits!
Furthermore, like in America, there are often fireworks. However, if you go further south, some southern towns also shoot off guns. It is quite controversial since some people have unfortunately died from this tradition.
Well, there you have it! Hope you enjoy your holidays in Italy!
Buon Natale e Buon Anno! (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!)