Christmas in Italy: Facts About Italian Christmas Traditions

Here are some facts about Italian Christmas traditions, celebrations and customs.

  • Christmas in Italy is an extremely popular holiday, and is celebrated all over the country. Festivities last from about the 6th of December until Epiphany, the 6th of January.

  • Most Italians give and receive gifts on the 12th day of Christmas, January 6th. A witch known as La Befana is said to bring gifts in the night to put in children’s stockings.
  • Attending midnight mass and eating a meatless dinner on Christmas Eve is an important part of Christmas in Italy. In parts of southern Italy, families eat a meal of seven fishes.
  • St. Peter’s Square in Rome is a wonderful place at Christmas. The square is decorated with a large Christmas tree, and the Pope gives his Christmas address at noon on Christmas Day.
  • Many children dress up as shepherds a week before Christmas in Italy. They sing and play musical instruments, and are given money to buy gifts.
  • One of the world’s largest Christmas trees is created every December on a mountain side near Gubbio. Thousands of lights spread across the mountain form a tree shape, covering over 1000 square metres.
  • Nativity scenes can be seen in Naples, while the city of Verona is known for its decorative lights. Traditional bonfire celebrations are held all over Italy on Christmas Eve.
  • Italian Christmas cake, known as panettone, is often served after mass on Christmas Eve. It is a dry fruit cake, and is typically eaten with a cup of hot chocolate.
  • Sweet snacks and treats are eaten in Italy all through the holiday season. Popular goodies include sweet honey breads, marzipan, nougat and gingerbread, all symbolizing the sweetness of life.
  • The Yule Log is important in Italian homes, and many families keep it burning nonstop until New Year. In Tuscany, a huge log is set on fire, during the Festival of the Log.

What next? Find out more about Italy, or visit our Christmas Around the World section to discover more facts about how other countries celebrate Christmas.

10 Interesting Facts About Christmas

Here are some facts about Christmas.

  • Christmas has been celebrated for over 2,000 years to mark the birth of Jesus Christ. However, long before Jesus was born, the middle of winter has traditionally been a time for celebration.

  • In the United States, Christmas has been a recognized holiday since 1870. An estimated 2.1 billion people around the world celebrate the holiday in some way.
  • Christmas is a huge holiday in the UK, Europe and the US, and it is also celebrated around the world in countries such as Brazil, China, India and Nigeria.
  • Christmas puddings originated in old England, when hunters carried the filling mixture on long journeys. In the 1700s the rich cake was only eaten on special occasions. Over time it became a Christmas food.
  • The first Christmas card was printed in London in 1843, although medieval wood prints with seasonal themes were produced in the Middle Ages. Nearly 2 billion cards are sent in the UK each year.
  • Father Christmas is based on St. Nicholas, a 4th century Turkish monk who gave gifts to the poor. In the mid 19th century, a magazine published pictures of him wearing a red and white robe, and with a white beard.
  • Christmas was banned in mid-17th century England, by Oliver Cromwell. It was also banned in Boston by early colonists, with anyone celebrating being fined 5 shillings.
  • Norway has given Britain the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square every year since 1947 as a gift for the help received from Britain during World War 2. The tree can be 20 metres tall.
  • In old England, a pig’s head with mustard was the traditional Christmas meal. The custom of putting coins in Christmas pudding originally represented the Wise Men’s 3 gifts.
  • The idea of Christmas stockings comes from the story of St. Nicholas filling old socks with gold for three poor sisters. One of the largest stockings was made in London in 2007 – it was 32 metres long!

What next? Discover more Christmas facts by visiting our Christmas resources page.