Italian Christmas Traditions

Christmas in Italy is far from the commercialized holiday that is celebrated in the United States. If you happen to go to Italy during the Christmas holidays, one thing that you will notice is the absence of Christmas decorations. Italians are not very big on decorating their houses, including putting up lights. Even though they are not big on Christmas decorations, they still love to celebrate the Christmas holiday.


Italian Christmas TraditionsA stocking with La Befana the Christmas witch

In fact, Christmas Eve is probably the biggest holiday of the year for Italian Catholics, which means most of Italy. On Christmas Eve, Italian Catholics, unlike other Catholics refrain from eating meat. Not only do they refrain from eating meat, but they actually fast all day on Christmas Eve. Italian Catholics will not start eating until the evening of Christmas Eve. Family and friends gather in homes to begin feasting on at least seven types of fishes, while they are waiting for Midnight Mass to start. Most families serve seven different types of fishes, but you can serve any number of fishes as long as they are in multiple of sevens. One of the most popular fish dishes is baccala, which is a salted codfish. Octopus and linguine with calm sauce is quite popular. Italian Americans in following the feasting on fish tradition often include crab and lobster with the evening feast.

Another Italian Christmas Tradition is putting out a nativity scene. Many Italians prefer setting out a nativity scene, which they also refer to as a presepe scene, over a Christmas tree, although some Italians will have both. The Italian Christmas Tradition with the nativity scene is that before Christmas Eve they set up the entire nativity scene with the exception of Jesus. Once the clock strikes, midnight on Christmas Eve Jesus is placed into the center of the nativity scene.


Another fun Italian Christmas Tradition is the Epiphany. In Italy, the holiday season doesn't officially end until January 6, which is the day that the three wise men finally arrived in Bethlehem. On January 6, La Befana, who is the Christmas witch, is whom the Italians are waiting for. La Befana brings thoughtful surprises, such as pencils, walnuts, and tangerines, in the stockings of good boys and girls. If the boys and girls have been bad, they can most likely expect to find coal in their stockings. La Befana has been around for centuries, whereas Babbo Natale has only just been recently introduced to the Italian children.

Another joyful Italian Christmas Tradition celebrated mainly in Southern Italy is bringing baby Jesus door to door so that families can greet the Savior. For Italians this is their version of Christmas caroling because while bringing the life-sized doll from door to door they are singing. Every house that is visited gets a chance to kiss the baby, and in turn, they offer drinks and merriment to their visitors. The best part about this Italian Christmas tradition is that it allows you to wish everybody in your village a happy holiday, while remembering the real reason for celebrating the season.


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Photo Credit: Clarita82

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