Christmas traditions in Italy and in the world

You know the saying: 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do'? This saying becomes truth especially when it comes to Christmas.

Conventional wisdom is not wrong when it says that as soon as you leave your own reality, you discover new customs and traditions. In fact, to learn about customs that are different from our own, very often all we have to do is travel just a few miles and, when it comes to Christmas, this is even more true.

On the other hand, Christmas traditions are really endless and sometimes unimaginable! Even just within Italy, moving from region to region and traveling the Boot from north to south or looking back to what the older generations once did, you can discover different ways of celebrating Christmas.

There's no single way to celebrate Christmas: the magic enveloping this holiday is expressed through thousands of different customs and traditions. Learning all about them will enrich your knowledge and give the holidays an ever-changing nuance and value.

So let's set off together on this short journey through space and time to learn about some of the best known and most original Christmas traditions.

Christmas traditions of yore: how did we come to today's Christmas celebrations?

Nativity scenes, Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Santa Claus... these are the most recognized and shared symbols of the holiday. But what are their origins? Let's learn about them together, exploring some of the Christmas traditions of the past that have managed to survive over the years (and centuries).

Nativity scenes. With origins dating back to the Middle Ages, where they were first set up in churches and then in private homes, nativity scenes have always been loved. Already in the 1800s, both noble families and less wealthy ones set up nativity scenes using plaster statuettes made by real artists of the time.

Christmas trees and Santa Claus. Compared to nativity scenes, these two traditions are much more recent and have reached Italy from abroad. Christmas trees, in particular, have now taken the place of nativity scenes in some households. The reason for this switch is not yet known, but it's probably due to the ease with which a tree can be set up and the greater variety of decorations. As for the origins of Santa Claus, we instead have to consider St. Nicholas of Bari, the patron saint of all children. In fact, on December 6th, his saint's day, it was customary to give gifts to the little ones. In little time this story and the Saint became so popular that they anointed him as a giver of toys all over the world!

Christmas logs. This is certainly the least known tradition among those described. The practice dates back to at least the 12th century and has only survived in some areas of Italy. According to this custom, on Christmas Eve a large log had to be lit in the fireplace to let it slowly burn during the night. This would keep the house warm to welcome baby Jesus.

Christmas in Italy: Christmas traditions from north to south

Even in Italy, there are more traditions and customs handed down from generation to generation at Christmas than you can imagine. After all, all you have to do is visit friends to learn new ways to celebrate Christmas! Get ready to take a short trip down the peninsula to learn about some of them.

Starting from the north of the Boot, in particular from the Veneto region, we come across the tradition of Santa Lucia. In this region, especially in the province of Verona, it's not Santa Claus who brings presents, but the Saint, and she does so a few weeks in advance! Children wait for the night between December 12th and 13th to receive her gifts.

We continue our journey in Tuscany, in a small village in the province of Lucca. Here is the tradition of the Natalecci: real constructions made of branches and logs that are over 10 meters high. According to legend, they must be burned on Christmas Eve so that as they continue to burn through the night, they can light the way for baby Jesus.

Similar to the Tuscan tradition, in Molise we find the Faglia di Oratino. In this ancient medieval village, a huge bonfire is lit the day before Christmas, known as the Faglia (a big torch 13 meters long), in front of the village's most important church. The remains of the fire are a symbol of prosperity and happiness for the new year, and are collected by the people on Christmas morning.

Now we travel to Campania, an important stop on our journey. We can find a tradition famous throughout the country, that of the nativity scenes of Naples. It's customary to set up nativity scenes here in the capital of Campania in which the sacred and profane are mixed together. Artisans prepare for Christmas over the year by making figurines depicting characters from the nativity scene and the world of entertainment. Each family can therefore boast a completely original and personalized nativity scene!

In addition to these specific regional traditions, there are common customs across the country: family get-togethers, card or board games, the exchange of gifts and, first and foremost, that of good food on the table.

Five Christmas traditions around the world: the most interesting and original

Now that we've learned about some of Italy's Christmas traditions, let's look at three different ways to celebrate Christmas around the world.

  • Finland. While Italians are used to spending time with the family at the table or having fun playing board games, in Finland the custom is to enjoy the sauna together with relatives. It's a way of paying homage to their ancestors whose spirits, according to the Finns, inhabit the very saunas of their homes.
  • Eastern countries, Austria and Bavaria. In these countries St. Nicholas has a counterpart: the Krampus. He's a goat-like demon that punishes naughty children. According to the tradition, a boot is left outside the door of the house and it will be filled according to children's behavior during the year: if you’ve been good there will be gifts from Saint Nicholas or, if you behaved badly, the Krampus will leave only a wooden stick.
  • Africa. The end of the cocoa harvest in Central Africa coincides with the Christmas season. On this occasion, before December 25th, young women sing songs and perform dances going from house to house, while after the 25th the men do it. Moreover, Christmas is peculiar on this continent because it falls in the middle of summer. That's when our Christmas fir gives way to decorations made of flowers and palm leaves!

Christmas food traditions: sweets are never missing

There’s no such thing as Christmas without good food at the table, especially a dessert to enjoy at the end of the meal. Here are some of these delicacies, Italian and not, that are typical this time of year.

In Germany, the star dessert of the Christmas festivities is Stollen, an ancient cousin of Italian panettone, but with a rectangular shape. According to the traditional recipe, the ingredients of this leavened cake include raisins, candied fruit, sweet and bitter almonds, milk and grated lemon peel. There are various versions of this recipe that call for the addition of marzipan, ricotta cheese, red wine, apples, plums or hazelnuts. The secret to enjoying it at its best? Eat it 10-15 days after it's been cooked.

Let's fly to Greece to taste the Melomakarona, typical Christmas sweets that are leavened and have a round or slightly tapered shape, with a citrus flavor thanks to the orange zest and juice present in the dough. Their flavor and aroma are made even more characteristic by the addition of cognac and cinnamon. To finish it all off, it has a delicious glaze made with a syrup of honey, lemon, cinnamon and chopped walnuts!

The last dessert we present, directly from England, is Christmas Pudding. This is an inevitable dessert on English tables at Christmas time. It is made with flour, breadcrumbs, dried and candied fruit, eggs and cognac. A chocolate coin is hidden inside and the person at the table who finds it in his or her portion will be the lucky one of the day!

These are only three of the typical sweets of some countries during the Christmas period. Famous in Europe and in the world for its cuisine, Italy contributes to the number of these delicacies, among which Panettone and Pandoro certainly stand out.

Christmas treats are an important tradition of the peninsula, which in recent years has lent itself to reinterpretations and new recipes, including ours. In fact, it is precisely from our love of tradition that we have decided to make Christmas sweets with select ingredients and craftsmanship, replacing the butter with our precious Extra Virgin Olive Oil to obtain soft and fragrant cakes, entirely to be discovered and enjoyed.

In our Stores and on our website you can find our Classic Christmas Cake, Chocolate Cake and Soft Cake, all made with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, perfect to bring sweetness to the festive days!