Italian Christmas Traditions

by blackspanielgallery

Like other European countries, there are ways in which Christmas is celebrated in Italy. And Italy has many picturesque structures that have inspired beautiful Christmas ornaments.

People with an Italian heritage tend to be proud of that heritage, and strive to preserve the traditions of their ancestors. Christmas celebrations are filled with traditions, many of which vary from country to country. Italy, like other European countries, has traditions that date back many years, and must be preserved. Some of these traditions are incorporated in Christmas celebrations in America by those of Italian descent.

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Boun Natlae (in Sicily Bon Natali)

Merry Christmas from Itlay

Merry Christmas, or some version of this is said differently in different languages.  In Italy it is Boun Natale.  In Sicily it is Bon Natali.  There are some differences in northern Italy, southern Italy and Sicily.  This is one case of a slight cultural difference between the mainland and the island of Sicily.  In general some differences can be expected, so variations might well have been passed down in any given family. 


The ornament shown below is from our Zazzle store.  It is one of several, and the wording can be added to any of our other ornaments.  

The Christmas Village

Throughout Europe, and Italy is no exception, shops spring up for the Christmas season where gifts, decorations, and food can be purchased.  They can resemble booths at a festival and line streets in clusters n a Christmas spirit.  This adds a dimension to the holiday season that is lacking in America.  It is a place for festive shoppers to stroll and even stop for some fun food.


In Italy these modern shops can look strange when ancient ruins are in the backdrop.   But, it is all being a part of the Italian history and tradition.


In Italy, since the Epiphany is the important gift giving day, the Christmas shops will remain open well after Christmas Day, unlike Christmas tree lots in America.  Christmas in Italy is a season, and the joy of the season does not end on Christmas Day itself.  The season finally does end on the Feast of the epiphany, which is January 6.

Christmas in Italy

Rick Steves

Babbo Natale

Santa in Italy

The Italian Santa Claus is Babbo Natale.  He wears red, just like Santa Claus, and has white trim, but is noticeably different in appearance from Santa Claus.  He arrives on Christmas Day to deliver gifts.

La Befana

In Italy, Christmas is just the beginning of the celebration.  On the Epiphany, January 6, La Befana, the old woman, is the most significant gift bearer.  But, gifts can arrive at any time between Christmas and the Epiphany.  

Dominic the Donkey

Dominic the Donkey is a rather recent song about a donkey who helps deliver toys to the children on Christmas Day.  His job is to get up the steep hills and mountains.  This was a way of rationalizing how toys could get delivered to the children who live atop those hills and mountains.


Dominic the Donkey is now a popular character among the children.

Italian Themed Ornaments

Bring Italy to You Christmas Tree

One simple way to bring a taste of Italy into any Christmas celebration is with Italian themed Christmas ornaments.  There is so much beauty in Italy that finding Italian themed Christmas ornaments is relatively easy.  Some really nice ones are shown below.   I believe these represent a wide range of Italy and its culture.  

The Seven Fishes Dinner

Christmas Eve Meal

Tradition varies for the Christmas Eve meal, but it always includes some form of seafood.  It is often referred to as the dinner of seven fishes, but the number seven is not an absolute or even important.  Some families use more than seven fish.  The number of people attending the dinner actually determines how many fish are served.


Because abstinence from meat for Catholics was a strict rule on certain days the meal could not contain meat.  I am not certain how this varied by country, but when I was young in America there would have been a problem if Christmas Eve fell on a Friday, a day when no meat was allowed.  If the meals was to be traditional, there had to be a menu designed for such an occasion.  That rule has now been changed.


Italians make and consume cookies with the Christmas Eve meal.  While the cookies are not only for Christmas, it is almost certain cookies will be included.  

The Nativity Set

Saint Francis of Assisi introduced the first Nativity set as an instructional tool.  The Nativity set is an important part of the Italian Christmas celebration.  As seen in the video Saint Francis set the Nativity in typical local settings.  And, he included images of typical local people doing their normal activities.  This was to make the Nativity more personal to the local community who might not understand a setting in Bethlehem.    


It is difficult to find such figures elsewhere, but Fontanini Nativity sets can incorporate other figures that he has created and are available outside of Italy.  So, if one is not in Italy, and wishes the Italian cultural experience, consider adding items to a Fontanini Nativity set.  Shown below is a typical Fontanini Nativity set and a few examples of other figures that might be added.   Just make certain the sizes are all compatible, and add to a set that matches the figures in style.  

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Updated: 12/03/2019, blackspanielgallery
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