Christmas traditions in Rome (and Italy)

The holiday spirit is everywhere, all throughout the country: Christmas is a major festivity in Italy and there are a lot of traditions that make it unique. We call it “Natale”: not only a very important religious feast day, but also a family-centric holiday, a great opportunity to stay at home with all the loved ones.

The Christmas season officially kicks off with the Day of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, on December 8. Decorations are all around: lights, Christmas trees and nativity scenes both in piazzas, streets and inside homes. There are also Christmas markets, events and a real magic atmosphere. Rome is more charming than ever.

Piazza Venezia (Photo credit: tomasalvarez6916)

Piazza Venezia (Photo credit: tomasalvarez6916)

On Christmas Eve (la Vigilia), we don’t eat meat because we need to purify our bodies. Families have dinner together with vegetables and fish based recipes: like salmon,codfish or shrimps. Someone doesn’t eat anything during the day in order to have dinner earlier and enjoy the evening. After the family dinner, many of us head to midnight Mass at the local church. Many Romans can even go to the Vatican for Mass with the Pope! During the night, Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) brings gifts to children.

Piazza San Pietro (Photo credit: @alessandradisomma)

Piazza San Pietro (Photo credit: @alessandradisomma)

On Christmas Day, we usually spend our time with our family and friends for a lunch that usually goes on the whole day. We eat traditional pasta (like lasagna or pasta in broth), roasted meat and lots of sweets like panettone, pandoro and torrone. Between the lunch and the dinner, we usually play cards or tombola (bingo). We exchange presents and have fun together. Celebrations extend into December 26, with the National holiday of Santo Stefano: lunch, dinner and family time again.


The official end of the Christmas season isn’t until January 6—the Day of the Epiphany: children get sweets (if they have been good during the year) and there are a lot of events for them in Rome.

We love Christmas…And you?

“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ” (Norman Vincent Peale)



Christmas Stand-Off: Panettone vs. Pandoro

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Christmas holidays is an excellent period to visit the Eternal City: life slows down, there’s time for long afternoon walks on the festive streets of the historical center full of lights and magic… here’s a really cool guide for things to do and see around.

And as for the Christmas Derby? In the Italian households it’s also time for the eternal debate of the season – Pandoro or Panettone? pandoropanettone

The two traditional Chrismas cakes are both sweet and spongey, though they are able to cause lively discussions on which to purchase for the family dinner. It’s a tough one, pros and cons on both sides – let’s see if you can pick a favourite!

flickr.comPandoro, “golden bread” has its origins in the beautiful Verona. Shaped usually like an 8 pointed star, it’s an elegant dessert on the Christmas table. Sliced accordingly, horizontally, it maintains the form and can also be re-assembled putting various fillings between the slices. Light texture, simple, delicious cake with sweet vanilla profume… Just perfect.

Beloved by children because of the nice interactive touch – you take out from the box the bag with the Pandoro in it and beside you find a small pocket of vanilla icing sugar. You pour it in the big bag, close the top and shake the bag until the sugar powder covers all the sweet cake. It’s really fun!

Curiosity: as reported in the wikipedia article, Pandoro was also the last meal eaten by Mussolini before his execution.

flickr.comPanettone, “large bread” or “Toni’s cake” is the traditional Christmas holiday cake for excellence originally from Milan. Shaped like a cupola, or like a high puffy muffin, inside with dried raisins and candied fruits: orange, lemon usually. The top can either be plain, or covered with icing and almond slices or with chocolate. For dinner with a glass of dessert wine or for breakfast with a hot tea… sweet indulgence.

Candied fruits – love or despise, that’s your call. Character, structure, masculine delight are the distinctive elements of Panettone, a popular cake not only in Italy but in Latin American countries as well.

Haven’t decided yet? The perfect solution is definitely to purchase both and alternate the slices, or also try the many variants of these sweet temptations! Chocolate filling, vanilla cream filling, chocolate on top, almonds on top… Afterall, there’s still plenty of time til’ Christmas and New Year’s Eve, isn’t there?