Christmas is around the corner and it’s a perfect chance to learn some Italian vocabulary.
I’ve just created a new section for this blog and I am really excited about it. I felt that I needed to write more posts about the Italian language, so I thought that it would be interesting to focus on the vocabulary for specific topics.
Since we are right in the middle of the Christmas season, the first post of this section will obviously be dedicated to this time of the year. However, I have more posts planned for the future, focusing on different aspects of life – like work, school, public transports, meals, family life, and so on.
I really hope you’ll like this new kind of posts, which I am planning on publishing on a monthly basis. I have quite a few already planned and outlined in my mind, but I am open to suggestions, so if you have a specific topic you are particularly interested in and would like to learn the pertaining Italian vocabulary, just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment here below. I’d love to help!
But let’s move to the Italian Christmas Vocabulary now.
The Christmas period, here in Italy, officially begins on December 8th, il giorno dell’Immacolata Concezione or simply l’Immacolata. On that day, which is a public holiday, Italians take out the addobbi (decorations) and start decorating the albero di Natale (Christmas Tree), putting luci, palline e stelle (lights, balls, and stars) on the tree.
Another tradition of December 8th, for some Italian families, is to prepare the presepe, which is a small nativity scene with statuine (little statues), usually placed near the Christmas tree. That of the presepe is a very old tradition and can be a real form of art: Naples, for example, is famous for its handmade presepi and for having lots of artisans creating statues.
Presepe can be very big, with lots of statues, houses, and little details, but in its basic form it requires five statues: Giuseppe, Maria, il bambino – which is usually placed in its crib at Christmas – il bue e l’asinello (Joseph, Mary, the child, the ox, and the little donkey).
Another very popular Christmas tradition is that of the presepe vivente, which is a living nativity scene, a recreation of the time when 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 and they usually last until Christmas Eve.
Something which is quite common these days, here in Italy, is the mercatini di Natale (Christmas markets). In the past, they were a tradition of northern Italy only, nowadays they have become so popular that they can be found in a lot of Italian cities. People go there to buy their regali di Natale (Christmas presents), to enjoy l’atmosfera di Natale (the Christmas atmosphere) and drink some vin brulè (mulled wine).
Christmas presents, here in Italy, are brought by Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) or Gesù Bambino (Baby Jesus Christ), but in some areas, Puglia especially, presents are also brought by San Nicola (Saint Nicholas), while in some northern regions it’s Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy) who brings the presents. San Nicola arrives on the night of December 5th, while Santa Lucia delivers her gifts on the night of December 12th.
And then Christmas finally arrives!
Celebrations begin on la vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve). Some families celebrate it with a cenone (big dinner) and sometimes they go to la Chiesa (Church) for la messa di Mezzanotte (Midnight Mass), after which it is quite common to have panettone and vin brulè. People say to each other Buon Natale (Merry Christmas), Buone Feste (Happy Holidays) or just Auguri! (Best Wishes) and go home.
Then il giorno di Natale (Christmas Day) arrives! It’s time to open the presents and start celebrating with your family or friends. People usually celebrate with a massive pranzo di Natale (Christmas Lunch), during which people eat traditional dishes – which differ from region to region – and then close the celebration with panettone or pandoro, the two most typical Italian Christmas sweets (there are many others, depending on each Italian region: you can find some of them here, while you can read more about the panettone and pandoro debate here). Usually, there’s also torrone on the table and sometimes people end the day playing board games like tombola or il mercante in fiera.
Italians do not celebrate only at Christmas: we have another day of celebrations! It’s il giorno di Santo Stefano (Saint Stephen’s Day), which is the day that comes after Christmas. People usually gather again to eat gli avanzi (leftovers) from Christmas’ Day or to just stay together and have another big lunch. Otherwise, since it is a more relaxed day than Christmas, people just stay at home and chill out watching film di Natale (Christmas movies).
People then celebrate l’ultimo dell’anno (New Year’s Eve), with a big cenone during which it customary to eat lenticchie (lentils), as the tradition says it brings money and good luck. Italians love to festeggiare (celebrate) and brindare (to toast) together with un bicchiere di spumante (a glass of sparkling white wine) and una fetta di panettone (a slice of panettone).
The period of Christmas in Italy ends on il giorno dell’Epifania or il giorno della Befana (the day of the Epiphany), which is a religious feast that celebrates the visit of the Tre Re Magi, the Three Kings, to the Christ child. Here in Italy, it is known as il giorno della Befana, because the tradition says that on that day la Befana – an old lady who flies in the sky on her broomstick – brings presents to little kids.
Kids usually prepare la calza (the stocking) on the night of January 5th and la Befana fills it with cioccolato (chocolate), dolcetti (sweets), caramelle (candies) and little giochi (toys). But if the kids have been bad, la Befana brings carbone (coal) to them. The day of the Epiphany is also the day when all Christmas decorations are taken down.
Since the day of the Epiphany marks the end of the holiday season, we have a saying that goes L’Epifania tutte le feste si porta via (Epiphany takes all feasts with her).
I have prepared a pdf file with all the words and phrases we learned in this post. You can find it in Your Italian Toolbox, a section of Instantly Italy where you’ll find Italian learning materials. You can get access to it by subscribing here.
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