Christmas in Italy is all about singing and music. The streets, shops and homes in the country are well decorated during the holiday season. Christmas in Italy starts eight days prior to Christmas and culminates on January 6th after the Epiphany (Feast of the three Kings). 'Novena' is the special prayers and church services conducted before Christmas that last for nine days prior to the day. The customs for celebration of Christmas in Italy are a blend of the familiar traditions of Christianity and the Pagan traditions predating the Christian era.
The gift giver in Italy is known as La Befana, an ugly but kind
witch. Italian children believe that La Befana visits them on 6th
January to give them gifts. Children hang Christmas stockings near
the head of their beds, in the hope of finding them filled with
gifts brought by La Befana. Children believe that the old lady,
dressed in a long black coat with a black scarf tied around her
head, goes from house to house on a broomstick, slides down the
chimney and leaves gifts in the stockings.
Beautiful Cribs are set up in churches during the Christmas Eve in
Italy. The Cribs or manger scenes represent the Holy Family, with
figurines of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. These figurines are made
of clay or plaster and are accompanied by the figurines of an ox and
ass, which, according to the legend, warmed the Holy Child with
their breath. Artisans beautify the Cribs by creating their own
intricate landscapes which show small trees, lakes, rivers, the
lights of Bethlehem in the background. Angels are hung from wires.
The churches in the town often compete with each other for the best
Crib. People go from church to church and take pleasure in comparing
and rating the Cribs.
Another popular custom for Christmas in Italy is the burning of the
Yule log. This is an instance of the blend of Pagan traditions and
the tradition of Christianity. The purifying and revitalizing power
of Fire is explained by the Pagan tradition, according to which, the
evils of the previous year are destroyed by burning the Yule log.
The traditions of Christianity explain that Virgin Mary enters the
homes of the humble at the midnight when people are away from home
to attend the Midnight Mass and warms her newborn baby Jesus before
the blazing log.
Apart from the Crib and the religious celebrations, Christmas
tapers are lighted on the Christmas Eve and a Christmas banquet is
spread. Christmas Eve dinner in Italy is meatless. The traditional
dish of Christmas Eve in Rome is named as 'Capitone', a
big female eel which is roasted, baked or fried. People in Italy
observe a fast, 24 hours prior to Christmas. This is followed by a
sumptuous feast served with many dishes, again, no meat. The
traditional Christmas dinner is called as 'Cenone'. The
menu for the Christmas dinner consists of spaghetti and anchovies,
broccoli, fish, tossed salad, fruits and sweets.
During Christmas in Italy, people enjoy eating the irresistible and
mouth-watering Christmas sweets which are quite popular in the
country. Some of the popular Christmas sweets include 'Panettone'
(a cake filled with candied fruit), 'panforte'
(gingerbread) made with hazelnuts, almonds and honey and 'torrone'
(nougat). Nuts and almonds are the main ingredients for all these
sweets. Peasant folklore in Italy believes that eating nuts favors
the fertility of the earth and helps in the increase of flocks and
The customs for celebration of Christmas in Italy are a blend of the familiar traditions of Christianity and the Pagan traditions predating the Christian era.