Christmas traditions vary across Italy and each region has its own special way of marking the festive period. From Venice in the north-east to Naples on the south-western coast every city has its own rituals that have often evolved over the course of several centuries.
In Milan many Italians look forward to December when the snow-capped mountains beckon and they can escape the city for a long weekend and travel north to the mountains where they enjoy skiing and other winter activities. But for those who choose to stay at home, Milan also has a lot to offer. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II at the heart of the city is transformed into a scene from a Christmas fairytale and families gather together to share caldarroste, roasted chestnuts, in piazzas across the city.
The dulcet hum of Christmas carols can be heard echoing down the narrow streets of Venice as the city comes to life for the festive season. The Rialto Bridge is bedecked with sparkling lights and street-food vendors, selling delicious seafood dishes, merrily greet church-goers and last-minute shoppers alike. On Christmas Eve, many Venetians take a stroll down the canals to Saint Mark’s Basilica to attend the Midnight Mass.
The Christmas tree outside the beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence's famous Duomo) glistens in the dusk and folks gather around the scena della Natività (the nativity scene) that appears in the Piazza del Duomo every year. The Cardinal of Florence prepares his sermon for the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and a maze of markets has taken over Piazza Santissima Annunziata, where merry holiday-makers sip steaming cups of Vin Brulé.
In the historic city of Naples, nestled at the heart of the town, lies Via San Gregorio Armeno, an entire street that pays homeage to Christmas. This ancient street is lined with endless shops dedicated to the Christmas Nativity tradition and is famous throughout the world. Whilst you can visit at any point in the year, at Christmas Via San Gregorio Armeno is even more magical.
If you fancy some sun over the Christmas season, you can’t go wrong with spending the holiday in Sicily. Palermo, the biggest city on the island, has a lot to offer in December from traditional Christmas markets to beautiful Catholic churches complete with gospel concerts and living Nativities. However, the pièce de résistance of the festive period in Palermo is the Street Food Festival. With local vendors selling tasty dishes from panelle, and crocché to pane con le milza, sfincione and stigghiola you can get a real taste of this beautiful region.
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