Centuries old Italian Christmas traditions, delightful Italian Christmas markets, delicious Italian Christmas cakes: here is the list of the five (plus one!) best things to do in Italy at Christmas time.
Discover Italian Nativity scenes
Preparing a Nativity scene (“Presepe” in Italian) is a widespread Italian Christmas tradition, especially in Southern Italy. Every church will display a nativity scene, and some are real masterpieces, with moving elements and detailed scenes displaying Italian rural life in the XVIII and XIX centuries. Unsurprisingly, baby Jesus is only displayed after December 25th, while you will have to wait until the Epiphany to see the three wise men!
The largest and most famous nativity scenes can be found in St Peters square and on the Spanish steps, but exploring Rome or Naples churches to find the Nativity scenes you like the most can be a really funny way to spend an afternoon, especially on Christmas day when museums and other attractions are closed. If you travel with your children, they will surely enjoy!
Click here to read my detailed post about Italian Nativity scenes!.
Browse the historical nativity scenes market in Naples
Crazy about Italian Nativity scenes? Want to have one of your own? Then the must place to go is the San Gregorio Armeno street in Naples, where you will find the most amazing collection of shops, all specialized in hand-made traditional Nativity scenes setting and characters. What I find fascinating is that on the same stall you will find traditional characters, such as saints and shepherds, and also modern celebrities like Pope Francis and Michael Jackson.
Click here to read my post about San Gregorio Armeno market in Naples
Look for your perfect Christmas gifts in magical Dolomites Christmas markets
Compared to Naples, Dolomites will provide you with a completely different atmosphere and Christmas shopping experience. Here you will experience a taste of Northern Europe, much more focused on Christmas trees decorations, wooden accessories, traditional fabrics and cinnamon sweets. It’s cold and finding snow is not uncommon. Saunas and steam baths are an old habit in the region, and after a day of visiting and shopping you will be able to relax in a local Spa, before enjoying your typical mountain dinner. Don’t forget to taste local wines, among the most interesting in Italy.
Click here to read my post about Dolomites Christmas markets
Taste Italian Christmas cakes: Panettone vs Pandoro
Italy has dozens of typical Christmas cakes and sweets, but Panettone and Pandoro are by far the most celebrated (and purchased: over 100 million pieces per year!). Hard to say which one is the most delicious (and discussions can be endless in Italian families, so you need to taste both and make your own opinion! Lets see the differences:
The “panettone” is a typical tasty sweet of Milan usually eaten for Christmas and New Year’s holidays in Italy. It has a cylindrical base with a dome on top and it is made with water, flour, butter, eggs and candied fruit and raisins. The “panettone” was born in the XV century and in Milan you can still find many artisans who produce this delicious cake with the original and traditional recipe.
The Pandoro is a typical dessert from Verona, consumed mainly during the Christmas season, of a the typical star-shaped form. Along with the “panettone” and “torrone” is one of the most typical Italian Christmas desserts. True to its name (pan d’oro means ‘golden bread’), the cake has a bright yellow color. Pandoro is traditionally a star-shaped cake that is dusted with powdered sugar.
Enjoy the unique Greccio living nativity
Each year, the small town of Greccio (close to Rieti, North of Rome) organizes the Historical Re-enactment of original San Francesco living nativity scene. With the participation of people in medieval costumes, the historical representation brings to life the story of the birth of the first nativity scene (Christmas 1223) made by St. Francis of Assisi with the help of the Noble Lord John of Greccio.
Follow this link for more info.
Celebrate Christmas mass in St Peter’s basilica
The traditional Christmas Eve Midnight Mass is one of the most important events of the year at St Peter’s Basilica, delivered in both Latin and Italian by the Pope.It’s a truly emotional event not to be missed if you are in Rome on December 24th.
Christmas Eve Masses are celebrated at St Peter’s Basilica. Capacity is limited and it can be very hard sometimes to get tickets for these events so you must book as far in advance as possible. The best way to get your ticket for Christmas Masses is to send a fax from your country directly to the Vatican between 6 to 2 months in advance.
Tickets are collected at the Prefettura Vaticana located just after the “Bronze Doors” at St Peter’s Basilica normally from 5-4 days before the event from 8am till 6 pm.Tickets are always free.
Follow this link for more info.
And what about you? What is your unmissable thing to see or to do for Christmas in Italy?