Christmas in Italy

How do I wish someone there a Happy Christmas?

  • Buon Natale!

When do they give presents?

  • Christmas Day

Who brings the presents?

  • Traditionally this is La Belfana, a kind witch. There are also regional variations: in Venice, the presents are brought by Santa Lucia, while in other regions the Baby Jesus brings the gifts. Babbo Natale – or Father Christmas – is also becoming more popular.

What’s on the menu?

  • The meal on Christmas Eve is usually fish. Lunch on Christmas Day varies by region. Depending on where you are it could include pig’s feet stuffed with mince, special sausages, tortellini or lamb. Dessert is often nougat or a cake like panettone.

Any other traditions I should know about?

  • Nativity scenes are everywhere in an Italian Christmas. Churches, public places and homes will usually have one. As well as the traditional figures, they might include figures of politicians or football players. The Pope adds the baby Jesus to the life-sized scene in the Vatican on Christmas Eve.
  • Most people go to Mass on Christmas Eve and church bells ring at midnight to mark the start of Christmas Day. Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo also fires a cannon to celebrate.
  • If you’re in Rome or southern Italy, you might hear bagpipes played by shepherds. They come down from the mountains to play in towns and villages.
  • Children often write a letter to their parents, explaining how much they love them. These are decorated, tied with bows and read out after Christmas lunch.