In Italy the Christmas season is a wonderful mixture of breathtaking sights, tantalizing smells, and captivating sounds. These pages will guide you to links, pictures, and text - Celebrating Christmas in Italy.
We will travel all over Italy visiting the Christmas Markets, viewing the presepi, mingling with the people...sampling the incredible food and experiencing Christmas with them. I hope thru these pages you will actually 'feel' you are there...:-))
Feast Days are a prelude to the Christmas season in Italy. Each town and small village pay homage to their own patron saints. But there are two feast days celebrated throughout Italy. One is the feast day of St Nicholas of Bari (Dec. 6th) and the other is the Feast of Santa Lucia (St.Lucy) on Dec. 13th.
In the 4th century St. Nicholas was the Archbishop of Myra a town in Asia Minor. The legend is that some Italian merchants and clergy stole his remains and took them to Bari, Italy. A shrine was erected to honor him. On December 6th a festival is held in Bari every year and pilgrimages are made to this small town by thousands of people to visit his tomb. For more information Click Here: St. Nicholas
In Siracusa home of Santa Lucia, (St.Lucy) the grandest of celebrations are held on her feast day, December 13th. There is a legend that says that during a great famine the people of Siracusa went to the great 'duomo' to seek her intercession. While they were in the church, a ship came into the harbor carrying grain and saved the city from hunger. "Cuccia" (grain kernels) are traditionally eaten on December 13th as a remembrance of the miracle of food. This feast day is also shared with the people of Sweden as it is said she once visited there. Her feast day is also known as the "Festival of Lights" and she is also known as the "Saint of Light," as it is said that St. Lucy went blind on December 13th. For more information on the life and traditions surrounding her life Click Here: St. Lucy
The Christmas Creche (Manger scene) originated in Italy and is one of the most popular sights during the holiday season. They may be presented simply or in more grand style as seen in Naples. The first creche was made by St. Francis of Assisi and today they will be seen in churches, piazzas...almost everywhere. Below are some websites with some of the most beautiful creches I have ever seen. Most of the sites are in Italian but they still should be viewed for their beauty.
Greccio - Home of Christmas Eve:
Christmas Crib Figures by Angela Tripi
Gallery of Cribs & Figurines
Greccio ed il Natale
The International Creche Festival
Il Presepe Napoletano
Il Presepe Napoletano - #2
L'Arte del Presepe
Presepio di Pianco
I Presepi Pugliesi
Presepi Home Page
Another recognized tradition found in Rome and her surrounding areas is the annual appearance of the Zampognari and Pifferai sheperds (the Italian bagpipers and flute players) that travel from their homes in the Abruzzi mountains to entertain the throngs of people throughout Naples, Rome, Calabria, and Abruzzi regions. They are easy to recognize in their traditional colorful costumes of sheepskin vests, knee-high breeches, white stockings and long dark cloaks. Their melodies fill the air with the loveliest of sounds.
The Christmas Markets throughout Italy attract thousands of visitors each year. Beginning in early December vendors will begin setting up their tables, carts, and displays in the piazzas and streets of towns and villages. You will find almost everything from food, Christmas ornaments, gifts, clothes to handmade presepe figures. The aroma of the 'Castagne' or chestnut vendors will be seen on just about every street corner. The colorful array of flowers - beautiful violets, poinsettas, azaleas, and cyclamens lend to the festive mood.
One of the most beautiful sights to behold is Piazza Navona at night during the holiday season. Thousands of people crowd into the piazza to view the large Nativity scene displayed there and each year a special theme is the focal point of the festivities.
The opening ceremonies consist of the blessing of the square by the Roman Auxiliary Bishop. Overlooking the piazza is the balcony of the Braschi Palace. It is fro here the Bishop will deliver his blessing. Afterwards, while being accompanied by dignitaries and clergy, he will walk the entire length of the piazza finally stopping at the Nativity scene which will be found in the center of the piazza. Once prayers have been recited the festivities begin.
On the night before Epiphany (Jan. 5th), Piazza Navona is filled with last minutes shoppers looking for bargains as children receive their gifts on Epiphany or "Little Christmas" January 6th. For more information on the Christmas Markets in Italy Click Here: Christmas Markets in Italy
The "Ceppo" or "tiered tree" is still found in Italy although many people have been using green artificial trees in recent years. What makes this tree so unique is the design as it is shaped like a pyramid. On the bottom shelf a small manger scene is placed. The middle shelf may contain greenery and fruit. The next shelf will hold Christmas ornaments or smaller figures depicting the nativity scene, and the very top of the ceppo may have a treetop decoration or a pineapple which signifies hospitality. On the outside of each tier are small rounded candle holders. The ceppo tree has also been called the "Tree of Light" and if you have the opportunity to see one you'll know why.
|| The Christmas season lasts about three weeks in Italy beginning eight days before Christmas and twelve days later. In Chieti the "Fava Bean Festival" is celebrated. On the Feast of San Nicolo enormous copper pots hold the fava beans which are cooked in front of the church of San Nicolo. This festival is in remembrance of the famine that took place in the 15th century.|
|People living in the south of Italy use foil-covered chocolates and fresh fruit when decorating their Christmas trees. Then on January 6th the children have the chance to eat the "trimmings."|
| On Christmas Eve in the town of Agnona (Molise), a religious torchlight procession known as "La Fraccolare is held. And in the town of Tufillo, a large bonfire is set in the square near the church which burns all night. Bonfires are symbolic of the fire that kept the Christ child warm and you will see them in many parts of Italy.
| Sorrento has a beautiful but more solemn ceremoney that passes through the streets that are illuminated with lights. The participants in this elegant procession will carry lit candles and the crib holding the Baby Jesus. The only sound that will be heard on these deserted streets are the townspeople singing traditional songs as the procession makes its way to the main square of Piazza Tasso. At the exact moment the Baby Jesus is born, an explosion of light and a variety of festive seasonal displays can be brilliantly seen and enjoyed by all. Fireworks blazon the darkened sky and the thundering sound of a cannon can be heard echoing over the Marina Grande.
| A lovely tradition is the writing of the "Christmas Letter" by the children of Italy. Most children who write letters to Santa Claus ask for presents, but in Italy children do not ask for gifts. On the contrary, they they tell their parents how much they love them. The letter is normally placed under the father's plate and are read once
the Christmas Eve supper has finished.
| Throughout Sicily the "Yule Log" burns slowly but steadily over the Twelve Days of Christmas. Once the last dying embers have burned out and cooled, the ashes will then be scattered over the soil in the hope of fruitful crops in the approaching year.