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December in Italy: Holidays, Festivals, and Other Events

Christmas in St. Peter's Square

December (Dicembre) is a popular month to travel in Italy for both Italians and foreign tourists, thanks to Christmas festivities and markets. Rome is especially busy at this time, as pilgrims flock to the city to attend special masses on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve.

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December in Italy: Holidays, Festivals, and Other Events

December 7 – Festa di Sant’Ambrogio and Oh Bej! Oh Bej! Christmas Market, Milan

Milan’s patron saint is celebrated on December 7 with a mass at the basilica of Sant’Ambrogio. It is also a local holiday in Milan, so all businesses and schools are closed.

Milan’s annual contribution to the Christmas landscape, the “Oh Bej! Oh Bej” Festival, coincides with Saint Ambrose Day and lasts several days. Essentially, Oh Bej!, which means “Oh nice!” in Milanese, is a traditional Christmas market selling artisanal crafts and local fare that the whole city comes out for. It is held annually at the Castello Sforzesco.

December 7 – Lighting of the World’s Biggest Christmas Tree in Gubbio, Umbria

Albero di Gubbio - World's Largest Christmas Tree
The World’s Biggest Christmas Tree in Gubbio, Umbria / photo Francesco Filippetti

The Umbrian city of Gubbio takes the spotlight each year on December 7 as it lights the World’s Biggest Christmas Tree. The tree, an arrangement of lights on Mount Ingino, is viewable for miles around from December 7 until approximately January 10.

December 8 – Day of the Immaculate Conception

This holiday kicks off the Christmas season in Italy. Traditionally, this is the day when many families and businesses put up their Christmas trees and/or decorations. It is also when most churches put their presepi, or nativity scenes, on display.

The day is an important day on the Catholic calendar, especially in Rome. Immaculate Conception marks the day when the Virgin Mary was born and it is celebrated in Rome with a visit by the Pope to the church of Trinità dei Monti, aka the church at the top of the Spanish Steps.

Christmas in St. Peter's Square
Christmas tree in front of St. Peter’s Basilica / photo © Melanie Renzulli

December 24 – Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is the most important day of the Christmas season in Italy. Most neighborhood churches will have Midnight Mass services on Christmas Eve, with the largest mass taking place at, of course, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. The evening, also known as La Vigilia (the vigil), is celebrated in homes with the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

Note that while many stores and restaurants will be open during the day on Christmas Eve, most businesses will shutter by afternoon.

December 25 – Christmas Day

Christmas Day sees another large mass at St. Peter’s Basilica as well as at other churches throughout the country. Morning mass is typically followed by a big meal, the cenone.

Christmas Day is a public holiday in Italy and you can expect everything to be closed, even museums.

December 26 – Santo Stefano (Saint Stephen’s Day)

St. Stephen’s Day, aka Boxing Day, is also a day off for most Italians. But stores, restaurants, and museums will be open. It is a good day for visiting friends and extended family, taking a stroll in the piazza, and resting after the big meals of the previous two days.

December 31 – New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is known by two names in Italy. Most commonly is Capodanno, “the end of the year.” It is also known as San Silvestro after the saint that is venerated on this day.

Most cities–Rome, Florence, Milan, Naples, Turin, and Venice–have fireworks celebrations accompanied by live music and other entertainment on Capodanno. But many smaller cities organize something, too. The fireworks display over the Castello Estense in Ferrara is particularly lovely on New Year’s Eve.

Throughout December – Christmas Markets

The largest and best Christmas markets tend to appear in northern Italy, in cities like Trento and Bolzano. Florence and Milan also hold lovely Christmas markets, where you can purchase artisan crafts, including ornaments, gourmet foodstuffs, and vin brulé.

Italy Magazine’s Top 10 Christmas Markets in Italy is a reliable resource for Christmas market ideas. Note, however, that Rome’s Christmas Market in Piazza Navona has, unfortunately, been inconsistent or nonexistent for the last several years.

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