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Italian Christmas Traditions


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Christmas is the time to indulge in all the good things with your family, no matter where you are. Christmas traditions and celebrations across the world are varied and Italian Christmas traditions are no exception to this. One Italian Christmas tradition is the ushering in of the beginning of the festivities by the Fifers or Piferari. They come down from the mountains of Abruzzo and Latium playing alluring and characteristic tunes on their bagpipes, filling up the air with expectation of the merry celebrations to come.


Italian Christmas Cribs

The traditional Italian Christmas celebration begins with the putting up of a Christmas crib or manger. Clay figures of Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, an ox and an ass are placed in the manger. It is said that the ox and the ass warmed the newly born Baby Jesus with their breath. Grottos, rivers, lakes and small trees and angels are also put up as decorations in the manger. Cribs are also set up in churches and sometimes there is a competition to deicide the best crib in the town. People go from churches to churches to view the beautifully decorated cribs. Families gather around the manger and recite prayers before going to bed at night.


Burning of the Yule Log

Burning of the Yule Log is another important Italian Christmas tradition. The Yule Log is burned in the grate as part of the traditional celebrations in many European cultures including Italy. It is believed that with the burning of the log, all the evils of the previous year are destroyed. Many Christians say this is a pagan belief, but there are Christian legends behind this practice as well. The Christian legend talks about how the Virgin Mary goes to the homes of the poor at midnight, while they are attending the mass and warms her newborn child in the warmth of the blazing log. In Italy instead of writing letters or sending emails to Santa and asking for gifts, children write letters to their fathers. In the letters they tell their parents how much they love them. Traditionally the letter is placed under the plate of the father and it is read out after eating the Christmas Eve dinner.


The Italian Ceppo

The Ceppo is a pyramid shaped structure resembling the Christmas tree which is made by linking two wooden shelves. Ceppo is decorated with colored paper, gilt pinecones and small decorated banners. Also known as the Tree of Light, gifts are fastened on the ceppo, fruits and nuts are also used sometimes to decorate it.


Babbo Natale and La Befana

Christmas carol is a Greek Christmas tradition that lasts even today. Being accompanied by the rhythms of drums and hymns of guitars, lyres, accordions, harmonicas, triangles etc children even today roam around the households singing the carols. They earn from the houses various sweets, dry fruits and even gifts.Christmas father is known as Babbo Natale in Italy. Children hang stockings near the fireplace for Babbo Natale to fill it with gifts. Though gift giving by Father Christmas is gaining popularity, La Befana is a more popular tradition and belief in Italy. La Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts on Epiphany; this is a unique Italian Christmas tradition that is very popular aspect of celebrating the birth of Christ.

According to legends, the three wise men stopped at the hut of La Befana on their way to Bethlehem and asked her to join them. She refused to join them, but when she saw the light at nightfall in the skies, she realized that she should have joined them. So, she gathered some toys of her dead children and ran to find them. But she could not find them and since then she leaves gifts for good children and pieces of coal for the bad ones.


Italian Christmas Food

Christmas food traditions are very varied in Italy. Some of the most popular menus during this festival include La Vigilia Napoletana, this starts off with a spicy broccoli rabe and goes on to the main course which can be eel, lobster or something similar. The meal ends with lasagna and struffoli. Another Italian Christmas Day menu is the II Natale in Altamura. This menu starts off with fishes such as baccala, eel and other varieties of seafood.

In some parts of Italy, Christmas food is started with taking cabbage soup. This is followed by the main item, turkey accompanied with stuffed cabbage leaves. The food is Tuscany starts with crostini and cold cuts, followed by cappelletti with broth and boiled food. Panettone or Pandoro with other pastries are eaten as dessert.

Some Italians fast for the whole day on Christmas Eve and go to church. Traditionally the fast is broken with a lavish Christmas Eve banquet known as Pronzo Delta Vigilia. This meal does not contain meat, but seafood, fish, soup, stew and pastries.

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