Holiday Traditions in Italy

Last week, we outlined some great holiday season ideas to do in Edmonton and Sherwood Park. This week, since we’re all “Italian At Heart” we thought we could teach you what Italians do in their own country!

Italians kick off the holiday season on December 8, by decorating everything and anything and it’s also when a lot of Italian Christmas markets start to go up.

This is Rome’s most famous market in Piazza Navona:


Decorations and huge Christmas trees can be found in main piazzas, like in front of the Colosseum or in Milan’s Piazza Duomo, and Babbo Natale (Father Christmas, the Italian version of Santa Claus) spreads holiday cheer.


The eight days before Christmas, also known as the Novena, are filled with carollers singing traditional songs around the neighbourhood. If you’re in Rome, southern Italy or Sicily, keep an eye out for the zampognari, or bagpipe players—they travel from the nearby mountains to play their merry folklore carols.


Presepi, which are nativity scenes, are displayed in churches and piazzas. Crafting these ornate works of art by hand remains an artisanal tradition in many parts of the country. Naples, a southern Italian city, is world-famous for their hand-made presepi, and still has whole streets with one workshop after another devoted to the craft.

On Christmas Eve, it is tradition to avoid meat and to have a “lean” meal. What usually happens is most families will indulge on multiple courses of fish.

On Christmas Day, after the “light” Christmas Eve dinner, Italians invite their family and friends for a large lunch that usually goes all day. Many save up to have the most lavish celebration possible, serving up traditional dishes like pasta in brodo (pasta in broth), roasts and sweet bread desserts like panettone.


Celebrations often extend into December 26 with the national holiday of Santo Stefano; families get together and eat leftover Christmas dishes and sweets.

The official end of the Christmas season, though, isn’t until January 6—the Day of the Epiphany, and the twelfth day of Christmas. On the eve of the Epiphany, families usually prepare a large dinner to mark the end of the holiday season.

When you exchange gifts completely depends on where you are from in Italy!

Ask an Italian when her family opens gifts, and it might give you a clue to where she’s from! Gifts are commonly exchanged on Christmas Day after lunch, but some smaller, northern Italian cities believe that the blind Saint Lucia brings gifts for children on December 13, so they open them that morning. Other families may wait until January 6, the Epiphany, when La Befana brings the gifts.