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Christmas traditions in Italy

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Dec 142020Christmas traditions in Italy Winter is an ideal time to visit Italy. Not only are there fewer tourists and shorter wait times at the museums and monuments, but there are many unique festivities and traditions only found this time of year. The Christmas season lasts from December 8th, the date of Immaculate Conception of Mary, to January 6th, the day of the Epiphany.
Tagsfamily, food, tourism, tours, travel, traditions, experience, local

Winter is an ideal time to visit Italy. Not only are there fewer tourists and shorter wait times at the museums and monuments, but there are many unique festivities and traditions only found this time of year. The Christmas season lasts from December 8th, the date of Immaculate Conception of Mary, to January 6th, the day of the Epiphany.
For Italians, Christmas festivities focus on the family; locals head to their hometowns to celebrate with loved ones. Meanwhile, light displays and Christmas markets pop up throughout the country.
Here are a few of the traditions we think are most important, no matter where you spend Christmas in Italy.

The Presepe
The presepe is the tradition of Christmas nativity scene displays, found in most cities in Italy. The word refers specifically to the crib, first created by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1223 AD. In Rome, the annual 100 Presepi exhibition displays about 200 nativity scenes from artists across Italy and other countries. Rome also houses the Museo del Presepio “Angelo Stefanucci”, which displays over 3000 presepi, made from a wide range of materials including plaster, glass, and even eggshell, and a life-size nativity scene is displayed annually in Saint Peter’s Square. The presepe at Santa Maria Maggiore is said to be the oldest permanent nativity scene, carved in marble by Arnolfo di Cambio in the late 13th century. In Florence, there is a life-size presepe outside the Duomo, made in terracotta by an artisan in Impruneta. The monastery of San Martino in Naples houses a unique collection of presepe figurines unlike any other collection and is well worth a visit.


The Presepe


Feasts
Traditionally, to prepare and purify their bodies, Italian Catholics forgo meat on “La Vigilia” (Christmas Eve) before heading to midnight Mass. Then, on Christmas Day, families host a large lunch which lasts all day, featuring traditional dishes like "pasta in brodo" (pasta cooked in stock) and panettone (sweet bread with raisins and sometimes with candied fruit too).


Feasts


New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve coincides with the “Festa di San Silvestro” in Italy, and is traditionally a time to both literally and figuratively throw out the past. At midnight, people throw kitchenware, appliances, clothes, and furniture out of their windows onto the street, a tradition most common in the southern part of the country. The day is celebrated with a big dinner called “il Cenone”, featuring lentils right after midnight; the money shaped food is thought to bring good luck.
A slightly less expected tradition in Italy is the wearing of red underwear, referencing the medieval belief that red wards off sickness and bad luck. Italians are so passionate about this tradition that red underwear can be bought all across town, and if a friend hears you do not have any, they will likely gift you some! Of course, fireworks, music, dancing, spumante, prosecco, and festivities are equally important.


New Year’s Eve


Epiphany
Families most often exchange gifts on the day of the Epiphany (though this varies by region), and also host another large dinner. Children are then visited by La Befana, a woman with a crooked nose and broomstick. Despite her appearance, La Befana is not a witch; she visits at night, bringing along stockings filled with sweets. In the original lore, she would bring oranges and coal for good and bad children respectively. She is not to be confused with Babbo Natale, the Italian equivalent of Santa Claus: La Befana forgoes the milk and cookies, opting instead for a hearty bottle of red wine as her treat.


Epiphany


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