7 Fun Facts That Make Christmas in Italy Special
Ciao, Santa! Or should we say, Babbo Natale? On this holiday season, we’re unwrapping not only grifts and joy but also some fun facts about Christmas in Italy. Or as they call it “Natale.”
Italy is a popular tourist spot all year long, but have you ever visited it during Christmas? Its blend of unique traditions gives its festive season a special touch that you wouldn’t want to miss. From La Befana, their generous witch, to panettone and pandoro, the sweetest duo, to the “Zampognari.”
Stick around until the end because, in this article, we’ll discover some fun facts about Christmas in Italy, and the special and unique ways they come together to celebrate this wonderful time of the year.
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Fun Fact #1: Italy’s Extended Christmas🎄✨
In Italy, it’s a whole month of pure Christmas magic! The festive season starts on December 8th with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and extends until January 6th, the Epiphany. Indeed, almost a whole month of celebrations. Italian families love to embrace the holiday spirit by adorning their homes with festive Christmas decorations and enchanting nativity scenes. Particularly in Rome, something extraordinary happens. The Pope pays a visit to the Piazza di Spagna to honor the Virgin Mary. It’s a moment filled with tradition and joy.
But that’s not all. Imagine streets, homes, and squares lit up in amazing colors and lights. Christmas markets pop up in every corner, the whole country turns into a lively, festive canvas. Italy truly knows how to make Christmas a month-long amazing experience!
Fun Fact #2: Lucky Bagpipe Notes 🎶🍀
If you’re in Rome or Southern Italy during the holiday season, be on the lookout for something special: bagpipe players or the “zampognari.” Legend has it that shepherds played music on their pipes when they met baby Jesus. Ever since, Italians have believed that their arrival brings good luck along with them, hence they play a key role in Italy’s Christmas tradition. Wearing warm sheepskin and wool cloaks, they play festive tunes on bagpipes and flutes in Nativity scenes and parades, adding a special musical touch to Italian Christmas celebrations.
Fun Fact #3: The Italian Art of Gift-Giving in Christmas 🎁🧹
Italian holidays are truly magical and their Christmas gifting tradition is a big part of that magic. While kids love toys and books, grown-ups enjoy stylish jewelry, leather goods, fashion finds, fine wines, and high-quality espresso machines. Perfumes and personal care goodies are also top gifts. Books and stationery, featuring calendars and pens, also make the cut as well as traditional foods like panettone and torrone.
In Italy, gift-giving timing varies. Up North, they spread cheer on the second week of December. Others wait for Christmas Eve or the Epiphany on the 6th day of January when the whimsical Befana witch arrives. Whereas others eagerly wait for Santa, Italians expect this charming witch that sweep in with sweets for the good kids and a hint of mischief for the bad ones. Fun isn’t it? The festive spirit, be it in sharing a panettone, a fine wine, or waiting for this beloved witch, tells stories of tradition and happiness.
Fun Fact #4: A Dolce Duo 🍰🎄
In Italy, everyone loves two special treats on Christmas Day so much that they indulge in them for breakfast. On the one hand, panettone, a fruity sweet bread that goes back to medieval times when families shared three loaves, and kept a slice for the next year as a symbol of endurance. On the other hand, pandoro, which means ‘golden bread,’ is a star-shaped cake from Verona dusted with sugar. It is like a softer, buttery cousin of panettone, without any fruits. Overall, these desserts are a must for an authentic Italian Christmas, with their many tasty versions.
Fun Fact #5: Merry Seafood Celebration 🦞🥂
A fun fact about Christmas Eve in Italy is that they call it ‘La Vigilia di Natale’ and prefer fish and seafood, instead of meat. This tradition comes from the Catholic practice of not eating meat on particular days, and indeed Christmas Eve is a day of fasting for them, before the big Christmas feast on December 25th. It’s simply their way of celebrating the sea’s abundance and staying true to their religious beliefs, yet not everyone follows this tradition these days.
Fun Fact #6: Italy’s Kind-Hearted Witch 🧙♀️❤️
Witches are commonly scary, but Italians don’t feel that way. They have “La Befana,” a beloved Italian Christmas figure from folklore and traditions that they adore. Stories tell that Befana is a good witch who brings gifts if children have been good or a lump of coal if they’ve been naughty. But she’s so kind that it’s usually a black-dyed rock candy instead of real coal. Also, legend has it that if someone spots her, they might get a playful thump on the shoulder from her broomstick, as she likes to stay unseen.
So even if Santa Claus is popular, Italian kids still adore La Befana and hang up stockings for gifts on the night between January 5th and 6th and celebrate her holiday: ‘La Festa della Befana.’
Fun Fact #7: A Mountain of Lights 🏔️✨
The Christmas tree on Mount Ingino, in Gubbio, is so enormous that covers an area of about 130,000 square meters, standing over 750 meters high. OK, it’s not a real Christmas tree, but still, it made it to the Guinness Book of Records. With more than 700 colorful lights, “L’albero di Natale” lights up the day before the celebration of the Virgin Mary on December 8. This tradition started in 1981 and has become a symbol of the beginning of Christmas festivities for Italian families. We may say that the creativity of Gubbio’s residents made the town stand out, adding a special touch to the holiday season.
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