Christmas in Italy
- SWATHI RAMASWAMY
- UPDATED May 09, 2018
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Christmas is the annual celebration of Christians, commemorating the birth of Christ celebrated on the 25th of December every year. While the event has been secularized and appropriated by various cultures across the globe, it is perhaps at its most authentic in Italy. With the Vatican City in neighbouring distance, the influence of the age-old institution of the Roman Catholic Church makes its way into the celebration in Italy quite seamlessly. But there is more to Italy than merely the religious element. Here is a list of things to look forward to for anyone spending Christmas in Italy:
Witness the Manarola Nativity Scene
The five sleepy coastal towns of Liguria’s Cinque Terre known for their colourful side buildings, experience a boost of activity during Christmas time. Italy is known for its nativity scenes across many venues, but the one in Manarola (one of the 5 towns) is a spectacular one with more than 15,000 lights and 250 different figures ranging from angels to camels. Every year on December 8th, the hills on the shoreline are adorned with an elaborate an ever-growing nativity scene with characters and structures made of recycled materials. The scene is preserved through Christmas and well into the next year- till February and is a sight that must be seen.
Attend the Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica
The Pope leads the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve from St. Peter’s Basilica, Saint Peter’s Square, Vatican City. This is an event that the whole world looks forward to. This is the Roman Catholic Church’s most important festivals and is a must experience for anyone in Italy at Christmas time. The Roman Catholic Church is one of the oldest existing institutions in the history of mankind in general, and if religion fails to appeal, the enriching history is undoubtedly compelling. Capacity is limited, and applications may be made to the Vatican 2 to 6 months in advance. In case of a planned visit to the city of Rome during Christmas time, attempts to attend this stupendous event is a must.
Naples and the Feast of Seven Fishes
The Italian-American tradition of the “feast of the seven fishes” refers to a Christmas dinner where the menu revolves around seafood. The tradition has its roots in southern Italy, in Naples, where the residents hosted ‘la vigilia’, or the vigil, the night before Christmas. Since Roman Catholics abstain from meat on Christmas Eve, the choice automatically refocused to fish. Baccala or salt cod and lightly fried calamari are dishes that often feature on the menu of any trattoria serving a hearty seafood meal on the day.
Visit the ‘Mercatini di Natale’ in Italy
The tradition of the Christmas marketplaces isn’t singular to Italy- markets and fairs crop up at every major European city during Christmas time. Of the most celebrated marketplaces in Italy is that of the Piazza Navona in Rome. The baroque square becomes something of an idyllic Christmas location every winter with stalls full of toys, sweets, presents and decorations. The figure of ‘Babbo Natale’ precedes over the fair. During the Christmas days, a Nativity Scene is also set up in the market square.
Enjoy the Natale in Arena
Held usually between December to January, the Natale in Arena, Verona started in 1983 where visitors could enjoy more than 400 nativity Scenes in the illuminated arena. A large sculpted star also graces the event extending from the arena into the Piazza Bar, where musical performances, markets and events are held for the visitors’ entertainment.
Be a part of the Festa Di Santa Lucia
This is an Italian Christmas tradition that consists of a street feast that takes place outside the church of Santa Lucia in Piano dei Mantellini, Siena. It is related to the legend of a staunch Christian Saint belonging to Sicily. She was known for her devotion to the poor, having given away everything she owned to the needy. Legend holds that she refused to marry a pagan who reported her to the Romans who, despite being armed with 1000 men and 50 oxen could not bring any harm upon her. Post is receiving the sacrament, she died in the early 300’s. It is in honour of her that the feast is held, in her honour this feast is held on December 13th which is coincidentally the shortest day and longest night of the year.
Experience the Father Christmases on Canoes
The sight of Father Christmas taking to a canoe is a striking sight, the view of multiple Father Christmases on multiple canoes, even more so. The canoeists from Città di Castello, the canoe club, paddle down from River Tiber to the Ponte Vecchio as a tradition. It is native to the region of Umbria. Torches flickering are reflected on the river route to create a magical experience. Children wait at the end of the procession and sweets are distributed to all.
While Christmas in Italy offers a wide range of activities and events, it is mostly rooted in the long-held traditions of the Church. Heading over to Italy this following Christmas will be a promising experience for all and different from the quiet family scene which is the norm.