Ah, Christmas in Italy!

Christmas is celebrated with passion in Italy. Nothing says Christmas more than family, big meals and traditions celebrated through the centuries. The whole peninsula really earns its lifestyle-label “La Dolce Vita” during the holiday season.

You’ll find Italy in fine form, decorated with care and perhaps even dusted with a sprinkling of snow (or at least a dense fog). Winter is more or less here in Italy and there’s snow blanketing much of the north and center during these days. It’s cold!

Time for family reunions, some winter foods and Christmas shopping. Furthermore, a Catholic country, also having the Pope residing here, brings Christmas very close to home and traditions live long lives in Italian households. As a matter of fact, let’s review together where to find the best Christmas atmosphere in and around Italy… Here you are the main Christmas markets which are also an opportunity for Italian travel lovers looking to venture off the beaten path this holiday season.

Bolzano Christmas Markets
In Bolzano, town of province Alto Adige, takes place each year a great Christmas Market, one of the most famous in Italy. Rich program of animation, concerts and tasteful seasonal gifts are the ideal in order to conciliate the tradition of looking for Christmas gifts with walks between the charming houses of this wonderful valley. Several little shops and stands propose many ideas such as Christmas decorations, funny slippers, big Christmas trees toys and a lot of typical petit fours. Where and when? From 29th November to 23rd December in Walther Square.

Milan Oh bej! Oh bej! Fair

 Oh bej! Oh bej! is also known as Fiera di Sant’Ambrogio

 Oh bej! Oh bej! is also known as Fiera di Sant’Ambrogio

The origins of the fair can be traced back to 1510, when a delegate of the pope arrived in the city, giving gifts to the children, who then exclaimed in Milanese dialect ‘Oh bej! Oh bej!’ (‘How nice! How nice!’). It’s the most important open-air Christmas fair in the city, and is very popular every year, especially as it’s held on two bank holidays for the city (the 7th of December is Sant Ambrogio’s feast day, the patron saint of the city, the second one being the Immaculate Conception on the 8th of December). Here you can find local delicacies, handmade crafts and jewelry, toys, Christmas decorations and much more. Where and when? On and around the 7th of December in front of the Sforza Castle and inside Parco Sempione, with the road outside the castle being closed to traffic.

Nativity shopping in Naples
Naples has been famous for its handmade nativity scenes, called “presepi” in Italian, for many centuries. The tradition continues today thanks to the Neapolitan artisans who have passed down their skills for generations. Christmas is the perfect time to stroll down in the narrow streets of the historic center lined with tiny shops and studios entirely dedicated to presepi. You’ll find traditional nativity figures in every shape and size, plus a cast of soccer players, politicians, musicians and celebrities from around the world. Be prepared for crowds during the holiday season, but that’s part of the fun! Where and when? On and around December to 7th of Jenuary in Via San Gregorio Armeno.

Venetian Christmas Village

   Christmas market in Venice

   Christmas market in Venice

Venice becomes a Christmas village in December and offers some very elegant last-minute holiday shopping: Venetian marbled paper, Murano glass, Burano lace, Fortuny textiles and furlane, which are traditional gondolier shoes. For those more predisposed for edible gifts or antiques, try Campo San Stefano, Campo San Polo and Campo San Maurizio that almost every year host special Christmas markets with wooden houses set up in the piazza and stalls selling high quality Venetian handicrafts, regional food, drink, and music. Where and when? On and around December to 7th of Jenuary in Campo Santo Stefano, Campo San Polo and Campo San Maurizio.

Gergei Crib Traveling
Gergei is a small town in Sardinia, home to one of the most evocative representations of the Nativity. Narrow cobblestone streets, arches, cellars, barns and stables of the old town come alive to host the event and are the background to Palestine two thousand years ago, here represented by characters in period costume, including the reconstruction of environments, the representation of ancient crafts and daily life scenes and magical play of light of torches and candles. The crib traveling enacts the journey of the two holy spouses and ends in the square of the parish of St. Vitus, where the hut is prepared to welcome baby Jesus, played as usual, the last born of the country.

After the lullaby sung by Mary, attends church at the solemn midnight mass. Finally, the whole community gathers around a bonfire to exchange greetings and enjoy hot drinks and meals typical of Christmas. Where and when? On December 24th in the narrow cobblestone streets of Gergei.

Silvia Pe is an Italian travel enthusiast and compulsive reader. She works in the tourism field and runs the blog CharmingItaly.com

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