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It's beginning to feel a lot like...


Christmas in Italy is as diverse as the country's history. The Christmas period in Italy runs from December 8th (the feast of the Immaculate Conception) to January 6th (the Epiphany). It's a season when Italians spend time with their families, shop at outdoor markets and nibble on panettone.

Below, you'll find some of the more curious customs behind Italy's Christmas celebrations:

MERCATINI DI NATALE

Chestnuts roasting on a fire. Torrone tempting your tastebuds. Strings of lights blinking overhead. Where are you? In a mercatino di Natale or one of Italy's Christmas markets. Throughout November and December, towns big and small are home to outdoor holiday bazaars — selling tempting treats like candied nuts, carved ornaments, and local toys. For more on Italy's Christmas markets, read our post here.

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LA BEFANA

Italian kids in many areas eagerly await the arrival of La Befana. The Befana is an old woman, riding a broom, who delivers gifts. Legend has it that she lost her way following the Three Wise Men and has been handing out presents ever since. She's Italy's version of the good witch, delivering sweets and gifts to well-behaved children. Naughty kids, on the other hand, can expect lumps of coal left in their stockings.

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LIVING NATIVITY

On the island of Sicily, Christmas comes to life – quite literally – with the presepi viventi or Living Nativity. Locals reenact the biblical nativity scene – including mooing and braying livestock. Donning traditional Sicilian clothing, residents dress up as Mary, Joseph, the Three Wise Men, Shepherds and the Angels. It's said that St. Francis of Assisi founded the tradition of living nativities in 1223. Since then, the custom has spread across Italy.

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PRESEPI

Throughout Italy's South, presepi or manger scenes rule the Christmas season. In the city of Naples, the Via San Gregorio Armeno is lined with hand-crafted creches. Made painstakingly by artisans, the figurines represent traditional village life in Southern Italy. Pedestrians walk up and down the “Christmas alley” here, popping in to shops to see craftsmen at work on manger scenes. Over 500,000 visitors tour this street each year.

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ST. LUCY

In some Northern Italian areas, especially in parts of Lombardy and the Veneto, St. Lucy is said to bring gifts each December 13th. Accompanied by her faithful donkey, St. Lucy rewards good children and gives coal to the cattivi (naughty) kids. To celebrate her arrival, children often leave a carrot out for her donkey and coffee for St. Lucy. In the city of Verona, the townspeople erect a huge Christmas market in honor of Santa Lucia.

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Christmas in Italy is a time unlike any other. Help your clients unwrap the gift of the authentic Italy in the new year — call us at 858.201.6424 or write info@seeitalytravel.com to learn how. 

Ciao, ciao!

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