Buon Natale – Christmas in Italy

Buon Natale – Christmas in Italy

Pronunciation of Buon Natale

Songs are an easy way to learn how to pronounce Italian words and phrases.  “Buon Natale” is a popular song by Nat King Cole.

How Buon Natale is Celebrated in Italy

Christmas in Italy is filled with music, celebrations, food and an appreciation of the religious significance of the holiday. The Italian Christmas is not as commercial as Christmas in the US. Americans are often disappointed with the understated and traditional celebrations in Italy.

When Celebrations Begin

Christmas Italy - Buon Natale

Christmas Italy – Buon Natale – Photo by Sonia Fantoli

The Italian Christmas season generally lasts three weeks beginning with the Novena, the eight days before Christmas. This is a period of celebration when music fills the air. Young musicians go around playing their musical instruments, singing Christmas Carols and reciting Christmas poems. Preparations for the Christmas holiday are begun in earnest by families during the Novena.

Listening to Bagpipes

One of the more unusual sounds of Christmas in Italy is the sound of bagpipes. The zampognari (shepherds who play the bagpipes) come from their homes to perform in the market squares in Calabria, Abruzzo and Rome.

The zampognari wear traditional outfits of sheepskin vests, leather breeches and a woolen cloak. The zampognari stop before every shrine to the Madonna and every Nativity scene to play their music.

What You Will See in the Markets

Christmas holiday markets with craft and food stalls are popular all over Italy. In the Piazza Navona in Rome there is a holiday market with stalls selling nativity scenes (presepi), Christmas tree ornaments and traditional food. The Christmas market in Bolzano known as “Christkindlmarkt” is the most famous in Italy. There are over 60 stalls located in the main square.

In Naples there is the Via San Gregorio Armeno, a market where you can purchase any display you may need for your nativity scene. You can buy everything from traditional pieces such as angels and stars to moss-covered houses and wells filled with water.

How Christmas Trees Are Decorated

Trees are decorated in Italy for Buon Natale.  However, the more important focal point in many homes is the presepio or nativity scene. Historically, Christmas trees have been more popular in the north and nativity scenes more popular in the south.

Christmas Eve Meal in Italy

Christmas Eve  is celebrated with a large meal that includes seafood and vegetables but does not include meat. This meal marks the end of a 24 hour fast.

This meal on the eve of Christmas Eve is popularly known as the meal of the seven fishes (for the seven sacraments). It typically includes fish and seafood such as baccala (salt cod), capitone (eel), calamari (squid), scungilli (conch meat) and vongole (clams).

Sweets with nuts and almonds are common at the meal. These sweets may include biscotti, panforte, pandoro and almost always includes panettone.

Buon Natale Traditions

In ancient Rome honey was eaten to ensure that the New Year would be sweet.

In Rome cannons are fired from Castel St. Angelo on Christmas Eve. Midnight mass is given by the Pope in Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square). At noon on Christmas Day the Pope appears on his balcony to bless the crowd gathered in Piazza San Pietro.

The ceppo is an Italian tradition that began in Tuscany. The ceppo is a pyramid made of wood that is decorated with candles and holds a small manger, decorations, candy, fruit and greenery. For other Italians a ceppo is a Yule log.

Babbo Natale is Italy’s Santa Claus

After World War II, Italians found their answer to Santa Claus in Babbo Natale.

The Urn of Fate is an Italian Christmas tradition where family members take turns selecting small gifts from an ornamental clay jar or large bowl.

La Befana, the Good Christmas Witch,  comes on Epiphany and that is when a larger gift exchange takes place.

Important days in the Italian Christmas season are as follows

December 8: L’Immacolata Concezione
December 13: La Festa di Santa Lucia
December 24: La Vigilia di Natale
December 25: Natale
December 26: La Festa di Santo Stefano
December 31: La Festa di San Silvestro
January 1: Il Capodanno
January 6: La Festa dell’Epifania

Christmas is a beautiful time of year to visit Italy with its traditions, music and decorations.  You will see historic attractions decorated with trees and lights.  Don’t miss the experience.

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