What do you know about Christmas Holidays in Italy?



Christmas in Italy is a wonderful time full of magic and history. 

The festive season starts December 8th for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and runs through January 6th, The Epiphany.

Christmas is the main event, but the holiday spirit really starts earlier, and it doesn’t wind down until the 7th of January.

Even though Christmas trees have become a well known symbol of Christmas all over Italy, the true Italian Christmas decoration is the Presepe, that is the Nativity Scene that depict the manger scene, with Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus.

You can find Presepi (plural) in homes, shops, churches and public squares. Sometimes the Baby Jesus is not added to the scene until Christmas Eve.

In southern Italy the Presepe has a very old tradition: they can grow into huge, elaborate displays with hand painted figures and motorized moving parts. 

A must-see!!

Also Santa has begun to make his appearance only in recent years: in some parts of Italy, the legend tells about Baby Jesus as the gift – giver who would visit Italian houses on Christmas Eve’s night with his little donkey.

When I was a kid, my parents would encourage me to prepare a bowl with milk for the donkey and some cookies for Baby Jesus, who after a long trip around the country would have been both hungry and thirsty.

I would also set a small carpet covered in flour in order to see, the next day, Baby Jesus and his donkey’s footprints.  Then I would go to bed early because Baby Jesus would have been on his way to bring me the gifts I deserved.

What an exciting moment!

On Christmas morning, my mother would bring me breakfast to my room, help me dress, then I would go downstairs to unwrap the gifts!

It is hard to explain the wonder in my eyes when I would see the carpet with Baby Jesus’s footprints on it!

I will alway be grateful to my parents for this memory.

In southern Italy, people use to have dinner on Christmas Eve. In northern Italy instead, we usually have lunch on Christmas day.

Families gather around the table to share some good moments with their loved ones, and eat good food.

We usually cook lasagna, or ravioli, then we make a roast that comes with baked potatoes. You can’t finish a Christmas meal without the typical Italian Christmas desserts: Panettone and Pandoro (as well as Torrone).


Panettone has a typical cylindrical shape, its leavening is natural and its soft paste is enriched with candied fruit (orange, lemon), and raisins.

The most famous legend dates the origins of panettone back in ‘400 at the court of Ludovico il Moro in Milan.

The dessert prepared for the sumptuous Christmas lunch burned, so the kitchen Chef Toni managed to prepare a substitute with the remaining ingredients.

So “ll pan del Toni”, (Toni’s bread) AKA “Panettone” was born. 

The upside-down 24 hours leavening

The name of the Pandoro might just be a reference to subtle layers of gold leaf which were used to decorate a cake for banquets in Verona during the reign of the Republic of Venice in the late 1800’s.

Also called ‘Nadalin‘ (little Christmas cake), Pandoro is notable for its star shape with eight points.

 There are many Italian companies who produce Pandoro, but certain rules have been laid down: firstly, the yeast must be natural and be added to the following ingredients: wheat flour, sugar, fresh eggs, vanilla, butter and salt.

The mother yeast which historically links all the Pandoro made in over a century and which gives each one that unique flavor and consistency, is still cloesely guarded.

In Italy we  say “Buone feste” from the first days of December, then “Buon Natale” just the week before, and immediately after Christmas Day, we say “Buon anno”.

By that time, Christmas will have been completely forgotten. Afterwards, you will immediately hear the question: “What are you going to do on New Year’s Eve?”

Italians love to celebrate the goodness of life!

We always want to celebrate, anywhere, anytime…. as much as we can!