Christmas is coming, and to avoid letting you arrive unprepared, we at Visit Italy want to reveal everything you need to know for your Christmas holiday and markets in Italy.
Whether you are looking for Christmas markets, Christmas destinations and alternative ideas for your trip. Or, if you want to learn about Italy's Christmas traditions with the most vital roots, what's on the Christmas tables throughout the country.
Well, you are in the right place! We at Visit Italy have designed and collected for you everything you need to know about Christmas in Italy and what could make your Christmas holiday as perfect as possible.
Humanity is one big, giant family... It is demonstrated by what we feel in our hearts at Christmas.
Italian Christmas traditions
Italy is a country rich in traditions and Christmas is no exception. Each region has its own, ranging from cuisine to popular and religious rituals, which renew from year to year.
First of all, tradition dictates that Italian Christmas begins on the 8th of December, the Day of Immaculate Conception. On this day, Italian families decorate the Christmas tree, decorate the house with lights and set up their Presepe (the crib).
Presepe is the representation of the Christian Nativity. St Francis made the first one in Greccio in 1223.
In the 15th century, the tradition took hold in Naples. Its Via San Gregorio Armeno has become the symbolic street of this art, full of craft workshops crowded with tourists and the curious every year.
Among the others, we cannot fail to mention the figure of the Zampognari (pipers), who's playing in the squares and streets heralds the arrival of Christmas. Often these players, who traditionally come from the mountains, are welcomed into homes and churches to cheer the festivities and wish Merry Christmas.
Please read our article about Italian Christmas traditions to learn more about these and others.
Culinary traditions of Italian Christmas
Italian Christmas cakes
Of course, Italian Christmas is for families and what better place to gather than at the table! Even at this time of year, Italian cuisine is unwavering, and each region has its speciality.
Among the great protagonists: Christmas cakes, super-sweet specialities that cover Italy from North to South. Examples include:
1. Christmas Zelten (Trentino Alto Adige): a cake of Central European origin made with dried fruit and candied fruit, usually prepared during Advent;
2. Christmas Tronchetto (Piedmont): a cake in the shape of a piece of wood. Originating in Scandinavia, it contains butter, mascarpone cheese, eggs, chestnut cream, cream and chocolate;
3. Pangiallo (Lazio): a cake dating back to Imperial Rome, they prepared it during the winter solstice, as a good omen for the return to long days;
4. Struffoli (Campania): Greek origin is a typical Neapolitan Christmas cake. They are soft balls of sweet dough, fried in hot oil (originally in lard), then dipped in honey and enriched with candied fruit and coloured sprinkles.
5. Cartellate (Apulia): small rosettes of dough made with flour, eggs, sugar, oil and white wine, fried and then dipped in vincotto (cooked grape must) or honey.
Panettone vs Pandoro: the eternal Italian Christmas dilemma
Panettone and pandoro
Panettone and pandoro deserve a special mention among festive desserts. These two Christmas cakes come from Milan (panettone) and Verona (pandoro), respectively, but are eaten all over Italy.
Italian Christmas is divided in two for these two desserts because some prefer one and those who prefer the other.
Some love panettone, rich in sultanas and candied fruit, symbolising abundance and happiness. And others love pandoro, simple but rich in butter and eggs, with its unmistakable star shape.
But in addition to panettone, Lombardy's Christmas tables are filled with many other delicacies. And Verona's confectionery tradition goes beyond pandoro alone.
Christmas Holidays in Italy
Chrstimas in Vatican
Are you thinking of visiting the Bel Paese during the most magical time of the year? Given the not-so-rigid winter temperatures (between 5-10°, especially in the centre-south), December is a great month to travel to Italy!
There is an enviable variety of experiences and destinations on offer: art cities, museums, Christmas markets and top-notch ski resorts. Plus, given the low season, there are fewer tourists and fewer queues at museums, more accessible restaurant bookings, and quieter walks in city centres.
Italy is full of perfect destinations for Christmas, where you can enjoy a Magical Christmas and buy gifts wholly Made in Italy.
Are you seriously considering the idea? Try getting inspired by our articles for your Christmas Holiday in Italy!
Christmas markets in Northern Italy
Christmas markets in Aosta
Northern Italy is the ideal place to breathe in the Christmas air. It is home to some of the most beautiful Christmas markets in the country. Large and small towns set up squares and streets with typical tiny houses full of familiar food and objects and surrounded by Christmas music.
The Christmas markets in Northern Italy, from Piedmont to Trentino Alto Adige, are ideal for breathing in the Christmas atmosphere.
The small chalets in the alleys of the cities or immersed in the mountains offer visitors the opportunity to taste the typical products of the period and learn about local crafts. An experience to not miss!
Discover in our article which is the Christmas markets to not miss in Northern Italy!
Christmas in Trentino Alto Adige
Christmas Markets in Brunico
In Northern Italy, the numerous Christmas markets dotting the entire region of Trentino Alto Adige are particularly impressive.
Five of them (Bolzano, Merano, Bressanone, Brunico and Vipiteno) are the so-called Five Original Trentino Alto Adige Markets, which received the Green Event certification in 2014. It means they have been designed and built by implementing ecological measures for environmental protection, such as waste management and sustainable mobility. For their attention to sustainability and safeguarding the territory, the Trentino Alto Adige Markets are exemplary representatives of these values.
We have selected the most beautiful and famous Christmas markets in Trentino Alto Adige for you. Run and discover them!
Not only in the North: Christmas in Central and Southern Italy
Christmas in Gubbio
Well, Christmas Italy is in the North and the Centre and South of Italy. You can have unforgettable Christmas holidays.
What do you think perhaps of a city of art like Florence? Illuminated by the splendid Christmas lights, it becomes even more beautiful! The Christmas market in Piazza Santa Croce, in Tyrolean style, and the live nativity scene in Piazza Duomo to not miss.
And speaking of nativity scenes, we must mention Matera. The first Italian UNESCO World Heritage Site and the European Capital of Culture in 2019. In addition to the Living Crib in the Sassi, the Matera Christmas Village has its Christmas markets.
Or why not go to Gubbio! Here you will find the giant Christmas tree in the world created with 800 luminous bodies on Monte Ingino. In addition, its Christmas markets are free and easily accessible to the disabled.
If you want to know everything about the Christmas markets in Central and Southern Italy, don't miss our article with 20 of them!
Alternative Christmas in Italy
Christmas Riva Del Garda
Well, you've seen the markets and decorated squares. And now, what could make your Christmas more alternative and exciting in Italy?
We could come up with so many ideas. It all depends on where you are and, above all, what you are in the mood for.
Are you looking for the right idea for a dynamic Christmas? You can choose between skiing, sledging or even dog sledging.
And if you're looking for a relaxing Christmas, why not head to a relaxing spa and soak in the warm thermal waters.
We at Visit Italy have tried to give you a couple of ideas to suit every need. Have you tried them yet? Hurry up and find out!
Sicily & Sardinia: Christmas on the islands
Christmas in Palermo
Who says that Italy's island regions can enjoy only the warm season? With their undisputed beauty, Sicily and Sardinia will leave you breathless even at Christmas, rich in their own, deeply felt traditions.
In Sicily, as in the Veneto, the day of Santa Lucia (13 December) is prevalent. In Palermo, in particular, Arancina Day is celebrated. The tradition originates from the terrible famine that afflicted the city in the 17th century. On 13 December 1646, a ship loaded with wheat appeared "by a miracle". In memory of the event, the people of Palermo have given up bread and pasta for one day in favour of the delicious arancini.
In Sardinia, Christmas is called Sa Paschixedda or Pasca de Nadal, according to the tradition of Sardinian pastoral culture. Christmas Eve, called the Notte 'e Xena (night of the dinner or whole night), was when the shepherds finally returned to their families after a long period of grazing. In particular, the northern part of Sardinia is full of villages with regional Christmas traditions and events strongly felt and celebrated.
Well, Italy is also a suitable destination for Christmas: tradition, food, a sense of family, hospitality. All strong values that will make you not feel lonely during the holidays.