Christmas is a major holiday in Italy with many unique customs, traditions and celebrations that vary from by region. The Christmas season kicks off on Dec. 8, on the Day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary with decorations on the street and at home. Dec. 8 is both a religious and state-sanctioned holiday.
Eight days before Christmas, known as Novena, Christmas carolers fill the streets and go door to door to sing traditional songs around the neighborhood. On Christmas Eve, or la Vigilia, Italians avoid eating meat in order to prepare and purify their bodies for Christmas, though some do dine on fish.
Following their Christmas Eve dinner, families head to midnight mass to celebrate. On Christmas Day, Italians invite their family and friends over for extremely large lunches that last all day. Dishes such as pasta in brodo (pasta in broth), roasts and sweet bread desserts like panettone are served.
The Christmas celebration does not end on Dec. 25. On Dec. 26, families get together for the national holiday of Santo Stefano, spend time together and eat leftovers from the day before. The official Christmas season does not end until Jan. 6, the 12th day of Christmas and the Day of the Epiphany.