Italian Christmas Traditions

Italian Christmas Traditions

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and most of us are busy carrying out our families’ traditional holiday celebrations. In homage to our Italian heritage, we thought we’d share some of Italy’s biggest holiday traditions. Do you do any of these in your home?

Nativity Set – “Crib sets” are found in most homes that celebrate Christmas, but they actually originated in Italy! Traditionally they are displayed beginning on December 8th, but the crib remains empty until late on December 24th, at which time the baby Jesus is finally placed in the manger.

Christmas Eve Meal – On Christmas Eve, Italian families have a large meal called “The Feast of the Seven Fishes.” No meat or dairy is eaten. Children write letters to their parents telling them how much they love them and place it under their father’s plate to be read at the end of the meal.

Midnight Mass – Midnight mass is a Christmas Eve tradition in Italy. The services are usually very well attended.

Bagpipes – Shepherds from the mountain come to the town square and wander around paying their respects to the nativity scenes while playing the bagpipes. They also perform at the Christmas markets.

Gift Giving – Children do write to Father Christmas (Babbo Natale) and may get gifts from Santa, a woman on a broom named La Befana, or Jesus on Christmas Day. However, the main gift-giving day for most Italians is Ephiphany, which is January 6th. (Fun fact: If you look at a calendar you’ll realize that January 6th is actually “the 12th day of Christmas” which you probably recognize from the popular Christmas carol.)

Food – On Christmas Day, lunch is the main meal. The exact menu varies by region, but most include several courses of meat, pasta, and sweetbreads for dessert. Some even leave the table set after the meal waiting for Mary and baby Jesus to arrive and sample the food.

Christmas in Italy doesn’t look anything like the glittery commercial holiday we celebrate here in the US, but the meaningful traditions run deep. This season, we hope you find the same depth and meaning in your own family’s traditions – whatever they may be.

Happy Holidays from Isernio’s!

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