When traveling abroad during the Christmas season, it seems appropriate to be in the Christmas sprit that is typical of the locals, respecting the right traditions.
The Christmas traditions in Italy are quite similar to the rest of the Western world, but there are a few customs worth mentioning.
- Of course, the Christmas tree: although it is a foreign tradition, it is common to put up and decorate the tree on the 8th of December, which, in Italy, is the official day of the beginning of the Christmas season. On this day, families usually take time to decorate the tree, which is a national holiday (Immaculate Conception).
- Christmas desserts: Pandoro and Panettone are the most typical ones. They both come from the North of Italy, but the custom of having them for Christmas is now nationwide. The first one is a very soft, tall cake, and when looking from the top, it is shaped like a star. It is usually served with powdered sugar, and is very good if dipped in coffee (to lean how to make a typical italian coffee click here) or hot chocolate. The Panettone, instead, is stuffed with candied fruit, and has a strong flavor to it.
- The Presepe, or the Nativity Scene. The first Presepe was built by Saint Francis of Assisi for Christmas in 1223 in Greccio (a small town in central Italy).
He wanted to commemorate the Nativity Scene after a trip to Bethlehem in Palestine. He chose this small town because it reminded him of the holy town of Bethlehem. Every year in Greccio, during the Christmas season, there are several representations of the first Presepe. A part from Greccio, the Presepe is set up practically in every church around the country. The classical characters of the Nativity Scene are: Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the animals and the Three kings. In some churches you will find very simple ones, and in others, on the other hand, they are very creative and well done. Perhaps the mosts beautiful Nativity Scenes are the handcrafted ones you can find in Naples. Have fun finding your favorite!
- And finally the Befana: this is definitely the most special, and unique, Italian Christmas tradition.
It is celebrated on the 6th of January. The Befana is an old and ugly lady that on the night of the 5th of January, while everybody is sleeping, brings candy to the children by entering the chimney. Indeed, children leave stockings and the next morning, they will find candy if they were good during the year and charcoal if instead they were bad. The legend says that the Three Kings, while searching for baby Jesus, one night knocked on the door of the old woman asking her for the road to Bethlehem. The Three Kings invited her to join them during the search but she said no. After they left, she repented so climbed on her broom and started to fly in the sky and look for them. Since she did not find them, she left a gift to every child hoping that one of them was baby Jesus.
These are the most common Christmas Traditions in Italy, but depending on the geographical area that you visit, other more local traditions can be found, especially regarding the Christmas menu.
Now you are ready to celebrate Christmas in Italy, so Merry Christmas to all or better yet, Buon Natale!!!!