Christmas in Italy

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Italians celebrate Christmas in a similar way to other western countries, although more emphasis is placed on the Christian teaching of it and the Roman Catholic Church.

Families usually still set up a ‘Presepe’ (Nativity) as well as the usual Christmas tree on December 8th which is a national holiday. Everywhere is lit high with decorations, Naples is one of the best places to visit for nativity cribs.

Dressed in traditional colourful costumes, with vests of sheepskin, white stockings and dark cloaks bagpipe and flute players entertain the passersby of churches and city squares in Rome, Naples and southern Italy.

Rome is full around Christmas with markets, nativity plays and multiple big Christmas trees.
The Piazza Novona market in Rome is transformed into a giant Christmas market in December, with stalls selling Christmas sweets, toys, nativity figures, gifts and decorations. A giant nativity scene is set in the centre near the end of the month, with Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) bringing gifts for the children.

Saint Peters Sq is also very important during Christmas time, a huge Christmas tree is displayed and a nativity scene is set too (although usually not revealed until Christmas eve), thousands of people flock for The Popes mass on Christmas eve and his speech on Christmas day.

They do not believe in eating meat on Christmas eve, with a lot of Italians (mostly from the south) celebrating on the 24th as opposed to the 25th , the meal consisting of seafood dishes (seven courses usually), after which Christmas sweets are eaten for example; panettone, panforte, pandoro, torrone, struffoli, caggionetti and more.

A lot of Italians attend a Christmas Eve mass in the evening.The northern families celebrate on the 25th with a lunch of meat, cheese and sweets.The other big difference between northern and southern beliefs is religion; the northern belief is that it’s a secular and religious holiday, whereas the south see if as incredibly religious and they follow the catholic meaning.

Gift giving changes dramatically from one place to another in Italy, even to the date it is given or who it is given by. Most follow Santa Claus leaving presents under the tree on Christmas day or eve, others believe it as baby Jesus, others S.Lucia leaves gifts on December 13th, and in others children have to wait till January 5th or 6th for ‘La Befana’ to bring sweets and gifts for good children and charcoal or ashes for the bad.

St Stephens Day is a public holiday and falls on December 26th, and Christmas celebrations continue to the New Year, the ‘Epiphany’ day (January 6th a feast day to celebrate God) or ‘La Benfana’.

The decorations are taken down on the 6th and sometimes female puppets are burnt to symbolize the end of Christmas and the past year.