Italian Tips

Holiday Traditions in Italy

Celebrate the season with family gatherings, games, and food – of course!

Join us for the Holiday season in Italy! Admire the Christmas lights in the squares, enjoy the holiday cheer, and forget about the calories count during the season.

In Italy, the Holiday season starts with the Day of Immaculate Conception on December 8th. This Catholic holiday celebrates the conception of the Virgin Mary, and dispite the religious nature of this holiday, many Italian families use this day off to get together and decorate for the start of the Holiday Season. The end of the Festivities will coincide with the Epiphany which is celebrated on January 6th. This date represents the day in which the three wise men arrived in Bethlehem with their gifts for the Baby Jesus.

Christmas Decorations

If you enter an Italian household in December, you will see the traditional Christmas tree and the presepe (aka nativity scene). In this scene, there will be the representation of the birth of Jesus surrounded by Mary and Joseph. Other characters from the nativity story, such as shepherds, sheep, and angels may be displayed near the manger in a farm or cave. A donkey and an ox are typically depicted in the scene as well.

Whether the statues are made of wood, ceramic or handcrafted by kids, the characters will be displayed beautifully in your living room and they can also be witnessed in churches and squares all over Italy.

Come Impostare un Presepe di Natale - Idee per un Presepio Fai da Te
Typical presepe – photo from Feste Mix

Play Tombola!

Tombola is a lottery style board game originated in Southern Italy and it is played throughout Italy. Neapolitan tombola is thought to have originated in 1734 following the new king’s decision to tax winnings of the similar game Lotto. Today, tombola is mostly played during Christmas and New Year’s Eve, but also played throughout the year during family gatherings. It is similar to the British version of bingo with prizes often being only symbolic or low cash pots.

Time to Play Tombola!
Tombola – photo by La Gazzetta Italiana

Let the feasting begin!

Italians start feasting on Christmas Eve (La Vigilia) where we will typically have a meat free meal. Acconding to an old Catholic tradition, it is meant to purify your body ahead of a religious celebration. Based on this, the protein of the night will be seafood.

The next day, it will start all over again! It is customary to have a family lunch in the early afternoon of December 25th. If you are thiking about a “light lunch”, think again. We suggest wearing comfortable clothes for this meal as there will be lots of dishes – appetizers, regional dishes, meat roasts and veggies. After you have made it through all the courses, it is time for dessert. Some traditional desserts include panettone and pandoro which are sweet bread.

Storia del pandoro e del panettone -
Pandoro e panettone – photo by

A New Year filled with good luck

Italians are supersticious therefore we will make sure that the new year will start the right way.

To guarantee that the coming year will be a success, make sure to get yourself a pair of red underwear, eat cotechino (pork) and lentils. Pork with its richness represents wealth while lentils symbolize money due to the coin-like shape. Eating dishes containing these ingredients is believed to bring prosperity in the new year.

Lenticchie e cotechino a Capodanno, perché portano fortuna. Cosa dice la  tradizione-
pork and lentils – photo from Corriere della Sera

La Befana

On January 5th, children leave their shoes or socks out to be filled with candy. Just like Santa, Befana comes down the chimney and leaves a treat for little kids while they are asleep. If kids were naughty, they would find a lump of charcoal or garlic instead!

Legend has it that Befana was an old Italian lady who wanted to bring gifts to baby Jesus but got lost. Since then, she has been trying to find her way to Bethlehem each year on January 6th, flying from house to house on her broom and leaving gifts in each one.

Perché la Befana porta dolci e carbone ai bambini?
Stocking filled with charcoal from Befana – image from Cookist

We at Varenna Holidays wish you a season filled with laughter, love, and cherished moments! Buone Feste to you and your loved ones!