Christmas - Italy

An Italian Christmas

Vatican Citi © istock Scubabartek

   Buon Natale! Felice Anno Nuovo!

  • Christmas Presents - Regali di Natale

    Most Italians open their presents on Christmas Day morning or after lunch, although some wait until Epiphany, l'epifania, on January 6th. It's traditional for children to receive a stocking, la calza, colourful, long socks full of sweets, i dolciumi, if they’ve been good, but they’re filled with coal, il carbone, which is made of black sugar, if they’ve been bad.

    Traditionally, it's not Santa Claus but the kind witch, La Befana, who brings the gifts and sweets. It’s thought she followed the wise men but got lost and has been wandering ever since, handing out presents to children at Christmas.

    In Venice and Mantova, it’s Santa Lucia who brings the presents, while in some regions it’s Baby Jesus, Gesu' Bambino, who bears the gifts. But nowadays, 90% of Italians also believe in Santa Claus or Father Christmas, Babbo Natale.

  • Food and Drink - Cibi e Bevande

    The essence of Christmas Day in Italy is family, love and food, la famiglia, l'amore e il cibo. Italian festive food varies from region to region, although there are some common dishes. In the Italian Catholic tradition, Christmas Eve is a day of abstinence from meat so a celebratory banquet frequently features fish - some families even prepare as many as 20 different fish dishes! In Rome and southern Italy, il capitone, a dish made with fried eels is a firm favourite. After dinner, Italians head off for midnight mass.

    Lunch, il pranzo, on Christmas Day is the most important of all the Christmas feasts and is a lengthy affair.

    Delicacies such as crostini with liver pâté or the classic tortellini in chicken stock, brodo are on the table, while lo zampone, a pig's foot filled with spiced mince meat, or il cotechino, a sausage made from pig's intestines containing a similar filling, are particularly popular in northern Italy. Others opt for lamb, l'agnello and accompanying vegetables include mashed potato and lentils, lenticchie. Tortellini, cotechino and lenticchie are often on the menu again on New Year's Eve.

    Sweet-toothed Italians indulge in desserts such as nougat, il torrone, and a light Milanese cake filled with candied fruit and raisins, called il panettone. The main, traditional cake is gold bread, il pandoro, which is very similar but without the candied fruit or raisins. A gingerbread with hazelnuts, honey and almonds, il panforte, is also popular.

    In fact, most Christmas sweets contain nuts and almonds as, according to peasant folklore, eating nuts aids the fertility of the earth and people, increasing flocks and family.

  • Quirky Customs - Abitudini Curiose

    Many small towns feature a Nativity scene with actors wandering around small streets, stables and squares interpreting ancient trades such as saddlers and knife-cutters.

    Pipers, zampognari, perform traditional Christmas songs on bagpipes, flutes and oboes. These travelling musicians come down from the mountains in the regions of Abruzzo and Calabria and typically wear bright red jackets and broad-brimmed hats with red tassels. In Rome, the pipers play at the Christmas market in the historic Piazza Navona, on the Spanish Steps and at the entrance to St. Peter's Square. Figures of the zampognari often feature in nativity scenes.

  • An Italian Carol - Un Canto di Natale

    Astro del Ciel, Star of the Sky (same tune as Silent Night)

  • Astro del ciel, Pargol divin, mite Agnello Redentor!
    Tu che i Vati da lungi sognar, tu che angeliche voci nunziar,
    luce dona alle genti, pace infondi nei cuor!
    luce dona alle genti, pace infondi nei cuor!
    Astro del ciel, Pargol divin, mite Agnello Redentor!
    Tu di stirpe regale decor, Tu virgineo, mistico fior,
    luce dona alle genti, pace infondi nei cuor!
    Luce dona alle genti, pace infondi nei cuor!
    Astro del ciel, Pargol divin, mite Agnello Redentor!
    Tu disceso a scontare l'error, Tu sol nato a parlare d'amor,
    luce dona alle genti, pace infondi nei cuor!
    Luce dona alle genti, pace infondi nei cuor!


Online Courses

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La Mappa Misteriosa

An interactive Italian drama for beginners.

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Italian Steps

A online course for beginners in 12 weeks.

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