At the center of a festive Italian Christmas is ... "faith, food, and family."
A major highlight
of holiday religious devotion is the Christmas nativity crib, or presepe, depicting the night in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. It is often an elaborate scene including the Magi and a host of heavenly angels, and a fixture in many homes and churches.
Elsewhere, Italy is ablaze with the sights, sounds and smells of Christmas with music provided by the zampognari, or pipers, who are traditionally seen performing in such places as Rome or in Naples's Christmas markets.
And then, of course, there is the food. A wonderful tradition in some areas
is the Christmas Eve dinner consisting entirely of fish, a substantial meal accompanied by pasta, along with traditional Christmas treats such as panettone or pandoro cake, and struffoli,
a sweet confection of friend dough soaked in honey.
Le Befana, the Christmas witch
Le Befana is the old Christmas witch who has become the female counterpart to Santa, delivering extra candy and gifts to children who are good, and coal to those who are bad.
As legend has it, Le Befana was asked by the Three Magi for directions to Bethlehem. Upon hearing the story of Christ's birth, she was invited to accompany the wise men, but refused.
Later regretting her decision, Le Befana now atones for her mistake by flying on her broomstick to deliver gifts & toys to Italy's children on the very day that honors the Magi, the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.
In an amusing tribute, the now-famous Befana regatta race features professional oarsmen - dressing up in wigs and old dresses - to race around Venice canals in an annual tradition which takes place on January 6.
Christmas in Italy - Here's a wonderful account of Christmas traditions observed in Rome, with related photo gallery and a link to more on the Italian St. Nicholas.
In Italy Online - Christmas Issue - Archived but still helpful resource for information on annual events and traditions throughout Italy including a list of top Italian Christmas markets, related
photos and related resources.
The Christmas Season in Venice - Read a travelogue on where to go and what to do in Venice at Christmas, including an overview of the annual Befana races on January 6.