The Christmas season has finally arrived!
Even if things have changed pretty much lately, Christmas still has a very religious meaning here in Italy and most of our traditions are deeply rooted in religion.
The wait for Christmas usually begins with the first Advent Sunday, which falls at the end of November/beginning of December.
There are four Advent Sundays, the last one being the Sunday before Christmas, and it is usually a tradition to light a candle of the Advent wreath on each of these Sundays. Moreover, the first Advent Sunday marks the beginning of the shopping season because shops start to be open on Sundays as well.
However, the real hustle and bustle begin on December 8th.
December 8th is the feast of the Immaculate Conception, it is a public holiday and is usually the day when the Christmas tree and the presepe are set up. The presepe is a nativity scene that is usually placed by the Christmas tree – I don’t know much about it because I never set up one, my family was not really religious and preferred to just decorate the Christmas tree.
Setting up the presepe is a real form of art, especially in the South of Italy. Naples, for example, is famous for the hand-made presepi, still having whole streets filled with workshops devoted to this art.
Do you know that in Italy you can also find presepi viventi?
Presepi viventi are living nativity scenes, a recreation of the magic time when Jesus Christ was born. They usually do not only represent just the nativity scene, but they also recreate the atmosphere of a rural village, with people wearing costumes and artisans working at their trades.
Such presepi viventi can be found almost everywhere in Italy, they usually last until Christmas Eve and are quite popular with kids and adults.
But there’s something much more popular, lately.
It’s the mercatini di Natale. Once just a tradition of Northern Europe, Christmas markets have now become very popular all around Italy. Nowadays, every little town has its own: a few wooden stalls, some artisans creating their objects, someone selling vin brulè (mulled wine), and your market is more or less done.
Sometimes these markets lack some proper atmosphere, but people do not seem to mind too much. And if you want to experience some real Christmas market, you can always get in the car and visit Trentino Alto-Adige or Südtirol, as many Italians do before Christmas.
After all these activities, Christmas day finally arrives and with it comes Babbo Natale, Santa Claus.
However, Babbo Natale doesn’t get to certain areas of Italy. Why? Because there’s somebody else there! In some regions of Italy, it’s San Nicola that takes care of gifts. He usually arrives in the night between December 5th and 6th and brings sweets and presents to the little kids.
In some other regions, especially in some northern provinces, people believe in Santa Lucia. She arrives in the night between December 12th and 13th and brings presents to the kids, who usually write them a letter with their wishes.
These are some of the celebrations before Christmas, but what happens on Christmas day? Be patient, I’ll be writing a post next week and it will be all about that!
Meanwhile, tell me, what are the traditions of this time of the year in your corner of the world?
If you are interested in learning more about Italian culture and lifestyle, I’d suggest you jump on my digital Vespa and join Be Italian For A Month, your 30-day virtual journey to Italy.
You will also learn some Italian words, you’ll receive some typical Italian recipes – ready to be cooked and enjoyed, you’ll get to tour around Italy, and learn about Italian traditions, proverbs, stereotypes, you name it. Plus, some cute surprises along the way!