What Are Some Italian Christmas Traditions?

Christmas traditions in Italy can vary from region to region but are often characterised by celebrations that take place over several weeks ending on the day of Epiphany. Many Italians observe the Catholic traditions of consuming fish rather than meat on Christmas Eve and visiting church for midnight mass.

Most modern Italian children wait for Father Christmas to bring them gifts on Christmas Day, but this was not always the case. Traditionally, children left out long socks on Christmas Eve to be filled with candy by a friendly witch called La Befana. If they had been naughty then La Befana would leave coal instead of gifts. In some regions, gifts were brought not by a friendly witch but by Santa Lucia or even baby Jesus.

While some Italians wait until Jan. 6, the day of Epiphany, before giving and receiving their Christmas presents, most open their gifts on Dec. 25.

Many Italian houses are decorated with the Tree of Light, known as the "ceppo" in Italian. The ceppo is a pyramid-shaped wooden frame that supports several layers of decorated shelves, each shelf containing small gifts. Displayed beneath the shelves is usually a miniature nativity scene.

Most Italians enjoy a traditional family meal on Christmas Day. Lunch often features an antipasto course of cured cold meat, followed by baked pasta or tortellini. The meal also includes a main course of meat such as braised beef, lamb or veal. For desert, Italians often eat a sweet bread cake with raisins, known as "il pandoro."