Seven Italian Christmas traditions you have to experience

  1. Cenone. It’s not Christmas without any food. In southern Italy Christmas Eve dinner, cenone (literally ‘big dinner’) is usually more popular than Christmas lunch. However, both meals have in common lots of food on the table. Cotechino con lenticchie (Italian pork dish with lentils) is a must. According to the tradition, lentils bring good luck because of their shape which resemble coins. This dish cannot be missed on New Year Eve’s dinner, too.
  2. Santo Stefano. What is Boxing Day? Forget it. Sales in Italy usually start at the beginning of January because we like to enjoy our Christmas holidays. The 26th December is Saint Stephen’s Day, which means more food. Usually families eat what left from the Christmas meal.
  3. Presepe. As Edoardo de Filippo says in his popular play ‘Natale in casa Cupiello’, “Il presepe è una cosa religiosa” (nativity scene is a religious thing). However, it is a Catholic tradition which is not common in the Anglican Church. In the Campania they have a long tradition about nativity. In fact, in San Gregorio Armeno, a Neapolitan neighbourhoo, there are many artesans shops that sell small statues for the presepe. Not only they sell the traditional characters you can find in any presepe, like the Holy Family and the shepherds, but they also make statues representing politicians and celebrities with the aim of mocking them. Maradona, who comes just after the Saint patron of Naples Saint Gennaro in popularity, is an evergreen, and Berlusconi and Renzi as well. Child Jesus’s statue gets in presepe only on 25th December while The Three Wise Men move forward him, every day a step, till the 6 th of January.Statues in San Gregorio Armeno, Naples
  4. Epifania. The 6th of January is the day the Three Wise Men finally get to Child Jesus. On thit day the befana (a kind of good-hearted witch) arrives too. According to the tradition, children hang their own socks next to the chimney or the window and during the night the befana, an old woman flying on a broom, will take them some treats. If they have been good she will get them sweets and presents, otherwise they will get coal, onions and garlic. Originally, it was a pagan tradition and later on it took a Catholic moral meaning.
    Gentile da Fabriano, Adorazione dei Magi

    Gentile da Fabriano, Adorazione dei Magi

  5. Tombola. Bingo! Terna! Quaterna! What is that? Tombola is a table game which originated in southern Italy in the 18th century and it is similar to bingo. Prizes are often only symbolic but competition is high. There is a humorous association system between numbers and their meanings called La Smorfia, popular in Naples. It is usually played at Christmas at home. Players have cards with numbers and whenever their number comes out,  they cover it on their card with beans, lentils or pasta.
  6. Christmas tree. Italians decorate their houses with Christmas trees like in other countries. However, according to the tradition, we prepare it on the 8th December, the Immacolata Concezione Day. On Christmas Eve children leave treats like peanuts, sweets and clementines for Babbo Natale (Santa Claus).
  7. New Year, new life! In many places in southern Italy, especially in Naples, there is a strange tradition,which symbolises New Year’s propositions. People throw old and broken things out of the window to get space for new and more exciting things.


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