December 7th is the feast day of Saint Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan. Let's discover the traditions of this celebration.
Saint Ambrose is a heartfelt feast for the Milanese population, rich in splendours and fascinating legends. Although it looks towards the future, the enchanting and futuristic Milan is very close to its millenary history, magnificent artistic and cultural heritage, and ancient traditions.
For instance, during the Advent season, Milan is tinged with a magical and muffled atmosphere, embellish by multi-coloured lights and Christmas decorations. Here you will find a detailed travel guide concerning the rituals, events, and gastronomic specialities related to the celebration of the Milanese patron saint.
A brief history of Saint Ambrose and the origins of the feast
Are you curious to know about the beginnings of Saint Ambrose, an eminent and charismatic religious figure? First of all, he was a very well-read theologian and one of the Doctors of the Catholic Church, the protagonist of various legends and tales concerning prodigious events.
Saint Ambrose was born in Trier, in Gaul, in 339 AD. He belonged to a prominent Roman senatorial family that converted to Christianity. His father held the position of praetorian prefect. After his classical studies in Rome, he performed his duties in the public sphere as a lawyer, a praetor, and governor of the Vicariate of Annonary Italy at the service of Emperor Valentinian I. Thus he acquired notoriety, authority, and credibility thanks to his exceptional dialectics, diplomacy, and know-how as a skilled and eloquent orator. He distinguished himself through his wisdom, sense of fairness, and justice for the care of the common good.
On December 7th, 373 AD Saint Ambrose was acclaimed as the successor to Bishop Aussentius, by the consensus of the jubilant crowd. During the exercise of his pastoral office, he adopted a lifestyle characterized by asceticism and practices of charity for needy people. With this purpose in mind, Saint Ambrose became a much-loved personality among the Milanese people. If you are an art lover, take the opportunity to visit the magnificent Basilica of Saint Ambrose, built between 379 AD and 386 AD. It is one of the most archaic and symbolic places of worship in the historic centre and an architectural masterpiece dating back to the Paleochristian and Medieval ages.
What to see during the feast of St.Ambrose in Milan: the Christmas tree in the Cathedral Square
Evidently, for the Milaneses, this feast day, with its dual religious and popular significance, is the moment that opens the Christmas season. In summary, to match the celebrations concerning Saint Patron, Milan dresses up for the festivities. The spectacular Cathedral Square in Milan, the city's cozy and characteristic living room, is the setting where the mayor switches on the illuminations of the fabulous Christmas tree. It is the ideal stage for hosting numerous musical, artistic, and cultural events. You will be pleasantly enchanted by the beauty and grandeur of the monumental Duomo, a majestic Gothic cathedral with five naves, built from 1386 onwards. It is embellished with marvellous stained glass windows and encircled by impressive and mysterious gargoyles, silent guardians of its magnificent treasures.
In addition, winter sports enthusiasts get the chance, taking advantage of the long festive period, to inaugurate the ski season.
Oh Bej Oh Bej local fair
If you are fond of popular traditions, folk events, and picturesque traditional markets, we recommend visiting the characteristic so-called Oh Bej Oh Bej local fair. As a matter of fact, it is one of the oldest festivals in the town, whose origins date back to 1288. The name of this event derives from the exclamation of astonishment and happiness used by children at the sight of sweet delicacies. So, in the late Middle Ages, a festival was held to celebrate the patron saint of Milan, similar to the current one, in the area overlooking the ancient Cathedral of St. Maria Maggiore.
Previously, stalls were set up in the streets adjoining the early Christian Basilica of Saint Ambrose, built in the Lombard Romanesque style. Then, they changed location and were transferred next to the magnificent Sforza Castle, one of Milan's most emblematic monuments of the city. The first thing to remember is that the roots of the fair date back to 1510. This was the epoch when Giannetto Castiglione, Grand Master of the Knightly Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, arrived in the city. He was designated by Pope Pius IV to revive the faith of Ambrosian citizens in the saints.
From this moment on, the Oh Bej Oh Bej fair began to be planned, with stalls full of toys, clothes, and culinary specialities in view of the feast of Saint Ambrose. The typical chestnut cake, mostarda and 'firon', special chestnut delicacies smoked through baking and flavoured with white wine, were very appreciated dishes. This speciality was tucked into traditional long strings, to be offered to customers.
Here you can find all kinds of products from which you can take inspiration for Christmas gifts: from antiques to handicrafts to food and wine. Furthermore, you can also taste some delicious roast chestnuts accompanied by an energizing mulled wine.
The Golden Ambrogino award
On the occasion of the feast of Saint Ambrose, the Golden Ambrogino award ceremony takes place. Basically, it is the highest recognition awarded by the Lombardy City Council to worthy citizens, organizations, and associations that have contributed significantly to the common good. They have distinguished themselves in solidarity and charitable actions, or people who have given prestige and prominence to the city of Milan.
Great opening night at the prestigious La Scala Theatre
December 7th is a day with multiple values and meanings. It is very relevant to the cultural landscape of the city. The premiere of the famous La Scala theatre, designed by architect Giuseppe Piermarini and inaugurated in 1778, takes place on this date as well.
In brief, it is also a renowned event at the international level, that opens the opera season, attended by leading figures from institutions, fashion, show business, and the jet set.
Artisans' craft fair
The Artisans' fair is another eagerly awaited event, which takes place close to the Feast of Saint Ambrose, in the Rho-Pero exhibition centre. It is a well-known kermesse dedicated to the handicrafts sector, typical products, regional specialties, and gastronomic traditions, attended by exhibitors from every corner of the globe.
Milanese typical dishes
Milanese families get ready to celebrate the Feast of St. Ambrose by setting up mouth-watering tables, laden with delicious traditional recipes. Firstly, let yourselves be allured by traditional Lombardy hors d'oeuvres. For instance, you can begin sampling delicious 'mondeghil', tasty meatballs made with boiled meat and fried in butter, and beef 'nervetti' salad, and continuing with Milanese-style risotto, flavoured with saffron. Besides, among the typical main courses, Rostin Negàa, veal knots flavoured with butter, wine, and sage, are preferred.
According to tradition, people are used to tasting the first classic Milanese panettone, in combination with a rustic sweet from peasant tradition, garnished with raisins, cocoa, macaroons, and pine nuts.
The delicious Ambrosiani, the traditional biscuits of the Milanese festivity, is a traditional recipe made of flour, eggs, sugar, and butter. Moreover, they are one of the ideal sweets to celebrate Milan's patron saint.
If you decide to visit the enchanting city of Milan, take the opportunity to try these delicious shortbread biscuits. Their preparation marks the opening of the Christmas festivities. In addition, there is also a tasty version of this recipe, which makes this delicacy even more delicious, by adding dark chocolate icing and some pistachio or hazelnut grains.