Christmas traditions in Italy

Christmas is an extremely important festive day in Italy and, as in almost all countries, there are some special Christmas traditions in Italy. Many of these traditions are regional or family-based, but there are also a few Christmas traditions in Italy, that can be found almost everywhere throughout the country.


Nativity scenes have a long tradition in Italy. They are usually set up in the living room long before December 24th, but the baby Jesus is not placed in the manger until Christmas Eve.


The decorated Christmas tree used to be found only in public places, but for several decades it has also been a part of most families’ celebrations. Tradition says that the tree is put up on December 8th every year and removed again on January 6th, one of the classic Christmas traditions in Italy.


Christmas traditionally begins with a midnight mass. December 24th has less significance in Italy than in Central Europe. People usually meet for dinner and the actual Christmas celebration only begins after the midnight mass.


One of the most important events on Christmas Day, at least for faithful Christians, is the mass of the Pope, which ends with the blessing “Urbi et orbi” in various languages.

On December 25th there is usually a large family gathering and a banquet. There is no traditional dish that is served in all Italy, but many families eat fish, and the dessert is often a spumante, accompanied by a panettone with mascarpone cream or dried fruits, torrone and pandoro.


Many families collect small change for Christmas all year round. Why? To gamble it away with a kind of bingo before the presents are given to the members of the family! In Italy, the gifts are only exchanged on December 25th; traditionally the Christ child (baby Jesus) places them under the Christmas tree for the children.


Without a doubt, Christmas is in Italy one of the most important family celebrations of the year. It is an ancient tradition that brings families together again to chat, share a meal and exchange gifts; traditionally, sitting together is more important than exchanging expensive gifts, one of the most important Christmas customs in Italy… in this sense: Buon Natale!

Photo by Pietro Zanarini