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World Christmas traditions: Italy

Sheila Byers Sheila Byers
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Christmas is perhaps the most loved festival of the year and the most heartfelt. In all the places where we celebrate this holiday, the cities are filled with warm lights, and in some countries markets appear where you can taste typical food and mulled wine and buy handmade items to give as gifts to friends and family. 

As we mentioned a few days ago, we at homify work within an international context. This Christmas season, we are having a look at holiday traditions around the world. Today, we focus on Italy.

The beginning

 Christmas Lifestyle:  Living room by M&S

Christmas Lifestyle


Unlike many other European countries, in Italy the Christmas season begins the fourth weekend before 25 December, but it is usual to start the festivities on the day of the Immaculate Conception, which is December 8. Italians usually we spend this day of celebration (schools and offices are closed) decorating the tree and their homes in various ways: some hang flashing, coloured lights on their balcony, put out poinsettias and decorate the front door with a traditional pine wreath wrapped in a nice red bow.  The traditions associated with December 8 are many and vary from region to region.

Bright cities

Every year in early December, cities began to light up more than usual. Illuminations of all shapes and sizes adorn the streets, and large Christmas trees appear in all the main squares to increase the Christmas spirit. City centres are filled with people carrying packages and parcels to put under the tree until the night (or morning) of Christmas.

St. Lucia

 Household by Wood BC
Wood BC


Wood BC

Every Christmas season, many Italians travel around the country to reach close relatives in order to share lunches and dinners on Christmas Eve, December 25, and St. Stephens. Another day that is very important is Saint Lucia, which falls on December 13th. In Sicily, and in particular in Syracuse, this festival is very important, so much so that many people decide to return to their hometowns for the occasion. It is indeed a special day in which is FORBIDDEN eat bread and pasta. Instead, traditional recipes based on rice, like arancini and cuccìa are enjoyed. To the north and south of Sicily, and the Holy patroness of Mantua brings gifts to good children during the night between the 12th and 13th of December.

Christmas dinner

 Dining room by gabel

After days and days of preparation, dinner is eaten on Christmas Eve. This meal is marked by a fish menu. Next comes Christmas dinner where, despite the full belly from the night before, you have the pleasure of feasting on tortellini and other splendid regional specialties from all corners of the Peninsula. In some parts of Abruzzo, for example, it is customary to have dinner with eleven different kinds of fish and vegetables. In Naples, a city that boasts one of the world's most beautiful Nativities, family are used to cooking typical local cakes that are fried inside the home with the windows closed. 

Whatever the region, Christmas is a time to spend with family. After dinner, many families await midnight when presents will be unwrapped by playing Monopoly or telling stories about what has happened during the course of the year. Those who are more religious attend Christmas Mass. Not everyone, however, opens gifts during the night, some families, especially those with small children, wait until the morning of December 25, so that Santa can visit the house!

Christmas Day

 Living room by G. Wurm GmbH + Co. KG
G. Wurm GmbH + Co. KG

14473—Winterkind Kantenhocker

G. Wurm GmbH + Co. KG

As mentioned earlier, on the day of December 25, the majority of Italian families will meet again at the table to have lunch with their relatives.  In Emilia-Romagna, home of tortellini, the classic menu is tortellini in broth, accompanied by baked potatoes. At the end of any Christmas dinner, we find the Panettone or Pandoro. The first is full of raisins and candied fruit, and the second covered with a dusting of pure white sugar. 

Many families are also the usual celebrate Boxing Day with a lunch or dinner. As we know, in Italy much of culture revolves around food, so during Christmas there is a lot of eating!

The Epiphany

Christmas '14:  Living room by Farrow & Ball
Farrow & Ball

Christmas '14

Farrow & Ball

The last day of the holiday season is the Epiphany on January 6, a day dedicated mainly to children. Tradition has it that the Befana, a very old woman flying on a worn broom, visits the children during the night between January 5 and 6 and fills their stockings, which are hung from the fireplace or a window, with sweets or coal. Generally, children who have been good during the year will receive sweets, candies, dried fruit or small toys, while those who have behaved badly find stockings full of coal. 

Little known outside the peninsula, the Epiphany is celebrated in many different ways from north to south. In Piazza Navona in Rome, for example, the square is filled with families with children of all ages who spend the day at the Market of the Epiphany. In Veneto, during the evening just before the Epiphany, they light a bonfire called Foghera, which, depending on the ways it smokes, indicates how the harvest will go. The Epiphany is also seen as the conclusion of the whole Christmas period and is usually the day on which the tree is discarded.

Would you like to spend Christmas in Italy? Let us know in the comments!
Whitton Drive:  Terrace house by GK Architects Ltd

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