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.
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
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.
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.
Quick Guide to Dates in December: Anniversaries, Events, Births, and Deaths
- Death of Lorenzo Ghiberti (1455)
- Republic of Venice annexes Treviso (1338)
- Death of Piero di Cosimo de’ Medici (1469)
- Birth of Gianni Versace (1946)
- Feast Day of St. Francis Xavier
- Death of Diocletian (311)
- Torino Football Club (Toro) founded in Turin (1906)
- Feast Day of St. Barbara
- Dario Fo stages “Accidental Death of an Anarchist ” for the first time (1970)
- Feast Day of St. Ambrogio / Holiday in Milan
- Cicero assassinated (43 B.C.)
- Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception
- Roman poet Horace born (68 B.C.)
- Kingdom of Naples and Kingdom of Sicily combine to form Kingdom of Two Sicilies (1860)
- Pope Francis I begins Extraordinary Jubilee ( il Giubileo straordinario della misericordia) (2015)
- Discovery of the tomb of the Athlete di Taranto (Atleta di Taranto (1959), a 5th-century B.C. participant in sports competitions in Magno Grecia
- Feast Day of Madonna of Loreto
- Death of Paolo Uccello (1475)
- Death of Luigi Pirandello (1936)
- Birth of Carlo Ponti (1912)
- Death of Donatello (1466)
- Birth of Nero (37)
- Leaning Tower of Pisa reopens to the public after 11 years of closure for repairs (2001)
- Milan Football & Cricket Club, aka AC Milan, founded (1899)
- First Saturnalia celebrated in Rome (497 B.C.)
- Birth of composer Domenico Cimarosa (1749)
- Death of Antonio Stradivari (1737)
- Birth of Italo Svevo (1861)
- Birth of Alberto Tomba (1966)
- Death of Marcello Mastroianni (1996)
- High-speed train line between Rome and Naples is inaugurated (2005), a huge leap for transportation in Italy
- Vespasian declared emperor of Rome, the last in the Year of the Four Emperors (69)
- Death of Thomas the Apostle aka “Doubting Thomas” (72), whose finger fragment relic is in the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome
- Death of Giovanni Boccaccio (1375)
- Birth of Masaccio (1401)
- Death of Guercino (1666)
- Birth of Giacomo Puccini (1858)
- Death of Peggy Guggenheim (1979), whose namesake museum in Venice is one of Italy’s most important centers for modern art
- Christmas Eve
- Death of Rossano Brazzi (1994), star of Three Coins in the Fountain, a classic film set around the Trevi Fountain
- Christmas Day
- Feast Day of St. Stephen (Santo Stefano)
- Tiber River overflows and floods Rome (1870)
- 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocks Messina (1908)
- Birth of Titus (39)
- New Year’s Eve
- Feast Day of San Silvestro