On the 2nd Blog of Christmas: An Italian Christmas by Paola Pica!

Christmas preparation in Italy starts on the 8th of December, which is an important Catholic Festivity.  Families usually take out boxes containing Christmas decorations and Crib scenes on that day and start decorating trees and houses.  The operation may be completely done on that day or may last longer. What matters is to start creating the Christmas atmosphere.
Christmas Trees are very popular in Italy and have probably overshadowed the Crib tradition, which has been kept alive for ages by those families who believe in the real essence of Christmas.  Children and adults enjoy rebuilding the same crib scenes one year after the other, putting  statuettes of shepherds and sheep around the cave or hut where Mary and Joseph have made up a bed for small Jesus in a manger; while, at a far distance, coming down the slope of the hill, the three Kings are approaching on their camels.  They are finding their way through a very confused landscape, made of the sand of the desert and of the rocks of the mountain on top of which Herod’s castle stands.  They are going to arrive at Jesus’s bed on Epiphany Day, after having actually been moved a little day by day, usually by the children in the family.

In the countryside and in villages women start their baking; which mainly consists of biscuits made only at Christmas time.  In towns the same is done by bakers, who keep selling out their products every day.  As for cooking in general, the most part of families have two big dinners, that is, on the evening of the 24th and at lunchtime on the 25th, which are two days for great family reunions.  Very few families only celebrate on Christmas Day and have a frugal meal on the Eve.  Anyway, both meals are usually very traditional and big, with only one strict rule to be respected about the 24th’dinner,which must be based on fish, according to old Catholic rules regulating meals on festivities’ eves. As for the big dinner on the 25th, roast beef or lamb are served along with pasta, vegetables and sweets, according to no strict rules.  “Panettone “, “Torrone” and “Pandoro” are served as desserts. 
People who don’t go to the Midnight Mass usually start playing cards after dinner, on the 24th, as they do again in the afternoon on the 25th.  This is something amazing to foreigners and I myself wonder why we should spend so much time in that activity on the Christmas Season.  In fact, playing cards takes place all over the period, when students are on holyday from school and university and can spend a long part of the night doing what their parents  can only do  during the nights preceding  the  festivity days, due to their jobs. “ Playing cards” also includes table games, like “Mercante in Fiera” (the Merchant at the Fair) which is the most popular and is only played at Christmas time.
When the last night of the Season comes, people have missed quite a lot of sleep but are happy to get ready for arranging toys and sweets to be found by their, at the moment sleeping, children on the “Befana” morning, that is on Epiphany Day, the 6th of January.

The “Befana” ( whose name reminds of Epiphany) is a good witch, who brings toys and sweets to those children who were good during the last year and only leaves coal (real or sugar)to the naughty ones.  Befana is similar to Santa Claus in the Northern European countries but also different in her ugliness and funny habit of travelling from house to house on her broom, flying in the sky no matter the weather.  She comes down chimneys or through walls, doors and windows, while children are soundly sleeping, and needs find the children’s socks hanging, so that she can leave her gifts in them.  These presents are small because, at that time, Italian children have already received their Christmas presents, usually very numerous; as each family member usually gives a present to each one of the others.  Christmas presents are usually exchanged on the 24th’s night or on the following day when the family wakes up, according to the family tradition.

You can also find ready- made Befana socks in shops and supermarkets, which start selling them in November, with Panettoni, Torroni and so on.
Paola. x

We hope you enjoyed this wonderful guest post from Paola Pica. We love having her on our blog as we can simply read about Italy all day every day! It's also so much fun for us to see where our family traditions come from and which are the British ways and which are the Italian! :) Thank you Paola.

Find Paola's book 'Errors of Evaluation' here! 

Love Lucy and Kelly xx


  1. Hi girls :) as you know I'm Italian and I've already know all the lovely (and yummy) things. I can't wait to eat my first Pandoro (waay better than Panettone) of the season ! xxx


  2. Hey! We know, we go home (England) on Saturday and we know our Nanna and Grandad's house is going to be full of Pandoro...we are so excited!! :) Thank you for reading!
    Lucy and Kelly xx