Christmas is a special time of the year and each country has its own unique Christmas traditions. Italy, including the regions of the Via Francigena and St Francis Way, is home to a range of Christmas events, foods and traditions that make it special. To help you experience Christmas like an Italian, the FrancigenaWays.com team has picked the most interesting Christmas traditions in Italy you should know about!
From the end of November up to Christmas Day, many Italian towns, the Via Francigena and St Francis Way regions included, host beautiful Christmas markets. Florence, on the St Francis Way, and Piazza Navona in Rome are home to some of the biggest and most famous Christmas markets in Italy. As well as Christmassy food, markets focus on crafts and hand made products. They are a great place to find gifts for family and friends; as well as handmade Christmas decorations.
From Christmas Eve until Epiphany on 6th January, you will also encounter many nativity cribs (called presepi), as well as some living nativity plays across the country. It is believed the first one was created by St Francis himself.
Christmas Eve is time for the main family Christmas dinner. It’s called Cenone (literally The Big Dinner!) and it tends to be a meat-free event, with fish being the main dish, generally. At midnight, it’s time to open the Christmas presents. If you are in Rome, the traditional Christmas Eve Mass takes place at St Peter’s Basilica around 10pm.
Sweet breads like Panettone and Pandoro are classic Italian Christmas treats you shouldn’t miss if you are in Italy around this time of the year. Nut-based torrone is another must-taste of the season.
The world’s biggest Christmas tree
Did you know the world’s biggest Christmas tree is in the town of Gubbio, on the St Francis Way? Originally set up to honour Saint Ubaldo, patron saint of the city, Gubbio’s Christmas tree is over 650 meters high and has over 300 lights.
Befana the witch
Children in some parts of Italy, including Rome, as well as their Christmas gifts they also get sweets and treats from a friendly witch, called Befana, travelling on a broomstick on the 6th of January.
We hope you enjoy reading about Christmas traditions in Italy and we’d like to wish you a Buon Natale! and wonderful Anno Nuovo on behalf of the whole FrancigenaWays.com team!
You might also like to read our blog post: Traditional Christmas food in Italy.