Christmas is probably the most celebrated holiday in the world. It is, nevertheless, observed differently in various countries, as Italy is not an exemption. In most countries, including the United States, children are used to opening their gifts on Christmas Day, the day of the birth of Jesus Christ. This is not the case for the Italian Christmas, however. Indeed, Italians have a plethora of legendary figures that are commemorated around Christmas. Italian Christmas is celebrated in a variety of ways and on various dates, depending on the region.

Saint Lucia’s Day

In some parts of Italy, as in Scandinavia, Saint Lucia is venerated with much ceremony. Lantern parades and family gatherings are also customary there. However, if the people of northern Europe make it a holiday to commemorate the light they so desperately miss, the Italian mark the occasion of their patron saint, who might have saved Sicilians‘ lives during the sixteenth century, with food and drink.

The story also says that they were starving to death on their island because there was no food available. Saint Lucia sailed across with several ships full of wheat, saving them from starvation. They just cooked the wheat without even converting it to flour, eager to eat and in a hurry. This is why they avoid any flour-based food on the celebration day. 

Christmas Day

The mass is the most significant Christmas custom in Italy, a particularly Christian nation! Take note that not only one mass is celebrated on Christmas Day; if the population mostly goes to midnight mass, they also attend morning mass on December 25. The birth of Jesus is a major event that brings together entire families and communities for the celebration. 

There is still time to gather before the celebration and the rigor pastries on the second day. This is a long-standing custom, and almost all Italians, even the non-religious, go to church twice during the year to commemorate the New Year’s holiday. Note that the month of December has several masses: for the Immaculate Conception, on December 8; Saint Lucy, on December 14; and Epiphany, on January 6, when Christmas festivities in Italy are said to come to an end.

Babbo Natale – Italy’s Santa Claus

Babbo Natale is a slimmer, more regal-looking version of Santa Claus. Both of them wear red cloaks with white trim. Additionally, Babbo Natale has reindeer, whose names are: Cometa, Ballerina, Fulmine, Donnola, Freccia, Saltarello, Donato, Cupido (Comet, Dancer, Dasher, Prancer, Vixen, Donder, Blitzen, Cupid).

On Christmas Eve, Santa Claus would go around the Christmas markets and deliver Italian children their gifts on December 24 to 25. Quite similar to Santa Claus. However, in some regions, it is said that the Gesu Bambino, the newborn Jesus, would bring gifts.

The European roots of Santa Claus, or Saint Nicholas, are evident in traditional folklore. Babbo Natale in Italy, Father Christmas in England, Père Noël in France, Sinter Klass in the Netherlands, Julenisse in Scandinavia, as well as Santa Claus are all Saint Nicholas figures from Christian mythology who has been given various names and appearances. 

La Befana

The legend of La Befana, on the other hand, is uniquely Italian. The more popular Italian Christmas character is still the elderly woman who brings gifts on Epiphany, January 6. 

In the greater Rome area, Christmas is exclusively observed on January 6th, during the Epiphany. Almost a month after Saint Lucy’s Day, Befana, the witch figure of Italian folklore, will come to the children with presents. Befana is a pleasant witch on a flying broom who delivers goodies in mid-January. She is dusted with ash since, like Santa Claus, she enters homes through the chimney. She also leaves rewards for the good children and coal for the bad.

The Christmas dishes in Italy

Isn’t it apparent how essential food is in the nation? It’s a gastronome’s dreamland, with delectable cuisines. At Christmas in Italy, you’ll find a unique dinner! Its inhabitants are very Christian, refusing to consume flesh on Christmas Eve, the night before the midnight mass. Many of them prefer light dishes or the seven fishes buffet, a ceremony that dates back many years.

The next day, however, the situation is reversed: pasta and a capon are typically served together. Some pleasant customs are unavoidable, such as the panettone that may be found on every Italian table. It’s fantastic. It’s a brioche filled with raisins and is quite popular. 

Finally, you should be aware that on New Year’s Eve, everyone eats lentils with pig’s feet to ensure a prosperous New Year!

The way to wish someone a Merry Christmas in Italy is not one of the many terms of difference. Simply speak Italian while putting on your best accent and saying Buon Natale.