We The Italians | Italian culture and history: 10 unmissable events during the Christmas holiday in Italy

Italian culture and history: 10 unmissable events during the Christmas holiday in Italy

Italian culture and history: 10 unmissable events during the Christmas holiday in Italy

  • WTI Magazine #146 Dec 18, 2021
  • 1175

Christmas markets, light shows and old traditions: all across Italy there are many events planned for the Christmas and New Year period: here we have chosen the most interesting suggestions for you. The very first traditional Christmas markets date back to around the 14th century in Germany and Alsace and then spread along the Alps, including Italy.

If you want a taste of the most authentic versions then you must go and discover the South Tyrolean Christmas Markets: from November to January the original Christmas markets of South Tyrol embellish the streets and squares of BolzanoMeranoBressanoneBrunico and Vipiteno. Easily reachable also by train, these are the ideal spots where to immerse yourself in an exciting atmosphere made of colors, perfumes and tastes that warm anyone's heart.

No less traditional are the markets of Nativity scene art in Naples, an art dating back to the late 1700s that remained unchanged over the centuries: from early November to January 6th, the well-known Nativity scene craftsmen’s workshops in Via San Gregorio Armeno – a real institution in Naples –display figurines for traditional and more eccentric Nativity scenes. In addition to the historic craft shops of San Gregorio Armeno, for the whole Christmas period the Municipality of Naples organizes “NATALEHANAPOLI”, a rich calendar of events with theatre, music and dance shows, guided tours and many markets of local and Christmas handicrafts in different parts of the city.

In Milan, instead, the Christmas markets are mainly held in relation to “Fiera degli Oh Bej! Oh Bej”, the traditional markets for St. Ambrose's Day, patron saint of Milan: to the markets, which some believe date back to the year 1288, are held from December 5th to 8th in front of the Sforza Castle. The Christmas holiday period, for Milan, includes a calendar packed with events and in particular, traditionally two historic events are held in the city: the Scala Opening Night on the night of December 7th, and the Christmas concert in the Cathedral, free and open to everyone, on the evening of December 20th.

If you want to enjoy your Christmas holiday in Italy with a high wow factor you can’t miss Matera and its evocative Nativity play: every weekend in December a sacred-theatrical representation of the Nativity takes place in the amazing setting of the Sassi di Matera, which has also been Italy’s Capital of Culture for 2019 (access to the event – lasting about 90 minutes – must be booked at this link). Between Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveso a touching itinerary rich in charm and spirituality unwinds, featuring actors who will re-enact different scenes of everyday-life in the Judea of two thousand years ago.

Christmas is also particularly special in Gubbio, in Umbria, where every year, on the night of December 7ththe historic Christmas tree, the biggest in the world, is lit up. Created at the foot of Mount Igino and stretching until the medieval city walls, the tree is illuminated by over 700 multicolored lights, spans a length of 750 meters and an area of 130,000 square meters. But Christmas in Gubbio doesn’t stop there: in Piazza 40 Martiri the characteristic Christmas markets are held, while the medieval San Martino neighborhood hosts the traditional nativity scene and last but not least, the miniature train and panoramic wheel from which visitors can enjoy an unparalleled view of Gubbio and its Christmas tree.

The celebrations for New Year’s Eve in Italy liven up the squares from north to south of the Boot, with concerts, shows and fireworks. To attend a truly sensational show you can spend your New Year’s Eve in Ferrara: here, on the night of December 31st within the city walls, the town is animated by music, activities for grown-ups and kids and by the magnificent Burning of the Estense Castle, with scenic fireworks shows, light and color cascades at the stroke of midnight.

Lights are also the stars of the show on New Year’s Eve in Salerno, where throughout the Christmas holiday period (from mid-November 2019 to well into January) the downtown streets are lit up by the wonderful illuminations and art installations with a floral theme, known as Luci d’Artista.

One of the most characteristic New Year’s Eve celebrations is the one that takes place in Piazza MaggioreBologna’s main square, where the ancient tradition of the “Bonfire of the Old Man” is relived: a puppet, representing the year that has just finished, is burnt on a bonfire to superstitiously leave behind all the bad things of the last year and wish oneself all the best for the coming one. The Old Man or “Vecchione” is a giant illuminated sculpture positioned in the middle of the square at the end of December and destined to stay there until the countdown to midnight on the 31st. The celebrations in the square continue after the bonfire too, spilling into the nearby streets with music and performances by street artists. 

For those who yearn to breathe in mountain air on their New Year’s Eve in Italy a good option is Tarvisio, in the province of Udine, where they can attend the 47th edition of the Alps’ longest torchlight parade: the traditional Torchlight Parade of Monte Lussari. The event takes place on 1st January, at sunset, in the Camporosso area: 250 skiers descend the ski slope of Di Prampero wearing traditional costumes (Tyrolean wool cloak, sweater, wool socks and pants, studded boots and hat) illuminated only by their torchlights. There is also a market hosting stalls with local products and a torchlight parade for kids at 4:30 pm.

Finally, if you are a jazz enthusiast, your New Year’s Eve can only be spent in Orvieto, where you can attend the 27th edition of Umbria Jazz Winter. From 28 December to January 1st tens of events bring the historic center to life, with more than 30 bands and over 150 international artists. There is non-stop music from midday until late at night, not to mention jam sessions and events where jazz music meets fine food & wine. Highlights of the event are the gospel concert after New Year's Eve Mass, the afternoon in the Cathedral, and the Grand New Year’s Eve Dinner with concerts before and after midnight.