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Why Italy Makes a Great Christmas & New Years Destination

/ September 25, 2017 / Comments: 0 / In: Uncategorized

 

Christmas in Italy

Many people who are interested in visiting Italy don’t know that winter is perhaps one of the best times of the year to visit and we believe that it should be on everybody’s bucket list to see once in their life time.   We’ve even wrote an entire article on the subject a few years back and you can read that here below in addition to our list of some of the most fantastic things to do during the Christmas holidays in Italy!

Wonderful Winter in Italy

The holiday season around Christmas and New years is truly magical and it’s during this time of year when villages, towns and cities all over Italy seem to compete for the best light displays and Christmas markets.   The smell of the chestnuts roasting on the street corners, the hot-chocolate, skating rinks, and traditional Christmas crafts made by local artisans start to appear everywhere.  Not to mention the fact that Italy is home to some incredible Christmas foods, wines, spirits and wonderful celebrations in the theater and opera houses!

Below, we have put together a list of some of the best things in Italy to do during the holiday season.

1. Christmas Markets

In many major cities and towns all over Italy, you can find some fantastic Christmas markets and celebrations. Some of the best are found in Northern Italy in towns like Bolzano, Cortina and others bordering on Austria, however the rest of Italy including Rome, Florence and Naples also have some incredible Christmas markets to check out! Some of the best in Rome are found near Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Navona, while in Florence head straight to Piazza Santa Croce where artisans from Italy and all over Europe come to display their holiday crafts.

Christmas Market Rome

Built in the 1st century AD by Emperor Domitian as a hippodrome and flooded to re-enact naval battles (from where it gets its name), the Baroque movement left it’s mark most conspicuously here with stunning fountains, architecture and statues from Bernini and Borromini.

Bustling with activity with street vendors, artists, street performers and even a carousel and a little fair for the children, Piazza Navona evokes a nostaligic feel for the Advent season.

IMG_9274Piazza Navona, Rome at Christmas time 

 

2. Visit Small Towns in the Country-Side and Italy’s Coastal Areas

Italy’s small towns, particularly in the regions central Italy like Tuscany & Umbria are alive with activity during the winter months.   Make it a point to get out of the major city centers and into the countryside to visit towns like Assisi, Gubbio, Perugia and other in Umbria or Lucca and Pisa in Tuscany!  They are absolutely filled to the rim with Christmas decorations and truly beautiful to witness during the holiday seasons.

3. Seek Out Incredibly Decorated Trees in Main Piazzas, Hotels and Parks

Rome really does go all out with it’s Chistmas Trees which are always enormous, extremely well lit and ‘Christmasyfied’.

The 4 best trees can be found at the Coliseum, in Piazza Venezia, at the top of the Spanish Steps, and of course, in St Peter’s Square.

piazza-della-repubblica-florence-italy-christmas
Christmas Tree in Piazza Della Republica, Florence 

 

4. Check Out Italy’s Brilliant Opera Houses

Get yourself in the mood for the holidays treat yourself to any number of Italy’s Opera houses in Milan, Rome, Naples, Florence, Trieste, Torino, and Palermo there is no shortage of incredible musical entertainment!

Theatre in Rome

Theatre in Rome

This year, 2017 across Italy, there are countless season Ballets and operas running including:

  • The Nutcracker at Teatro dell’Opera
  • Four Seasons & other arias by Vivaldi frequently throughout Advent at 7pm Chiesa di Ponte Sant’Angelo
    • Various Opera Performances throughout Advent & Christmas at Chiesa di Sant Paolo Entro le Mura
  • Music – Handel, Beethoven & Bruckner at Parco della Musica / Sala Santa Cecilia
  • “Disney on Ice: Frozen” at Parco della Musica / Sala Santa Cecilia for kids 
  • Christmas Concerts:
    • Christmas Concert – 5:15pm Sala Baldini
    • Christmas Concert – 7pm Chiesa Mettodista Italia
    • Baroque Christmas Concert – 23 Dec 5:45pm Chiesa di S.Maria Immacolata e Museo dei Cappuchini

5. Ice Skating in Milan, Como and the northern Lake District cities and towns

Como town has got a great ice-rink set up right on the lake with wonderful shops and lots of local food to try, not to mention wonderful lights and great artisan stands to buy from.

IMG_9352[1]

4. Taste Holiday Treats

Italian food is delicious at any time, but this is especially true around Christmas in Rome with certain seasonal delicacies also available.

Italian Salad

Caprese, Christmas Style

During this time of year, you will also see stacks of boxed cakes called Panettone.  Available only at this time of year this ‘sweet bread’ simply melts in your mouth and is one of the lightest tasting things you can eat.  I’d say it’s a cross between bread and candy floss and Italians love it!

Panetone1

10. Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s, Vatican City

Midnight mass at St. Peter’s if you are in Rome is a MUST DO and be sure to organize yourself accordingly before hand.

To attend the Mass, you will need tickets which can be requested from the Prefecture of the Papal Household.  However, if you’ve not been able to secure tickets, then you can still follow the Mass on the giant screens that will be errected in St Peter’s Square.

More information on Papal Masses and visiting Vatican City, get in touch with us.  team@italyvacationspecialists.com

This year, Midnight Mass with the Pope at St Peters will begin at 21:15inside the Basilica.

Papal Midnight Mass

Papal Midnight Mass

7. Christmas Shopping

Now that your body and probably ego is a little bruised from the ice skating, how about indulging in a little retail therapy to perk yourself up whilst spending Christmas in Rome…?

Don’t leave your Christmas Shopping to the last minute, get in quick to take advantage of Rome’s fantastic shopping culture and learn why Italian fashion and design is world famous.

italian-fashion-textiles-trade-fair
Experience Incredible Shopping at Designer Stores in Italy 

Of course the most iconic of Italian shops are the designer shops in the area around Via Condotti (just near the Spanish Steps).  Luxurious brands such as Versacci, Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino, Giorgio Armani & Pradaare all in this area for those who want to splash out on their gifts.

For those who are less affluent and are more into bargain hunting, the nearby Via del Corso also has a myriad of more mainstream boutiques.

8. Feast of the Messenger of Bethlehem

As we get closer to Christmas and our Advent preparations begin to bear fruit, we should be focusing more and more on the true meaning of Christmas – the coming of God to each of us as a helpless little baby in the humble beginnings at Bethlehem.

No other Christian feast so captures the humanity of Jesus who comes to each of us, not as an all powerful deity, but as a loving baby calling us to love Him back.

Born in the House of Bread (or in Hebrew – Bethlehem), Jesus was laid in a manger (where animals eat from) for us to chew over the signifcance of what is before us.

Be there with the shepherds and magi as they come to adore this baby boy in the manger, by visiting the pieces of wood in the Basilica of S. Maria Maggiore which tradition holds are the pieces of the wood of the manger.

Relics of Christ's Crib

Relics of Christ’s Crib

Collected and placed inside a silver reliquary in a small underground chapel in the middle of the church, the relics have been placed in a spot which had been hollowed out as a place of pilgrimage for those visiting Rome as early as 432AD.

Pope Sixtus III ordered a ‘cave of the nativity’ to be dug in the Basilica and although less cave-like today, it is extremely moving to be in the heart of the church and be before the Christ-Child’s crib.

Surely Christmas in Rome wouldnt be complete without this visit!?

9. Nativity Scenes

Tradition holds that the first nativity scene (or nativity crib, or in Italian presepe) was made by St Francis of Assisi, but as mentioned above, as early as 432 and Pope Sixtus III, people have been creating re-enactments of this first scene of Christ’s birth.

Italians pride themselves on their crib scenes and often compete with each other in producing the largest or most beautiful.

Some of the most notable nativity scenes in Rome include the one at the second level of the Spanish Steps, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, San Marcello on the Via del Corso, San Cosmo and Damiano, Santa Maria in Trastevere and the American church of Santa Susanna.

But the most famous and indeed most impressive is the Nativity Scene at St Peter’s Square.

Life-size Nativity Scene at St Peters

Life-size Nativity Scene at St Peters

Positioned at the obelisk in the centre of the square in front of the stunning Basilica of St Peter, the nativity scene is life-size and under construction for all of December.

The Crib Scene is finally unveiled on Christmas Eve in time for Midnight Mass at the Vatican.

This is truly impressive and of course you can visit it any time after Christmas Eve until 8 January 2017.

 11.  Christmas Day Mass at Vatican City “Urbi et Orbe”

Urbi et Orbe” is latin for “to the city [of Rome] and to the world”.  It is the name given to the address by the Pope given for the world to hear and made annually on Christmas Day.

The Pope generally sends Christmas greetings and prayers to all peoples in various languages but may also use the occasion to reflect on an important message for our times.

The finale of the Pope’s Christmas Speech is to give his Apostolic Blessing to all those present in St Peter’s Square and who are following his speech via modern communications, and grants the listeners a plenary indulgence.

Urbi et Orbi

Urbi et Orbi

Many Roman families will come to the square for this blessing and there is a very special and wonderful atmosphere that conveys the message of peace and wonder of Christmas.

12. Baby Jesus at Aracoeli

With the baby Jesus now having arrived, nativity scenes throughout Rome will now include the baby Jesus statue within their crib.

However this takes on special significane at the Basilica of the Holy Baby of Aracoeli at the Capitoline Hill.  

Baby Jesus of Aracoeli

Baby Jesus of Aracoeli

This magnificent church located at the top of a massive flight of steps, is so named as it is home to a 15th century devotional wooden statue of the baby Jesus swaddled in golden fabric, wearing a crown, and adorned with various gemstones and jewels donated by devotees.

The historical records show that this statue was carved from a single block of olive wood taken from the Garden of Gethsemani from the Holy Land.  Numerous miracles of healing have been reported in association with the statue.

Normally located in a glass casket, for the period of Christmas, the statue is placed in the crib of the Basilica’s nativity scene.

In the past, this has enabled thieves to get close enough to steal precious jewels from the baby (like candy from a baby), but we hope you will simply go to him and adore the beauty of the scene.

 For more information about great holiday ideas and festivities in Italy, get in touch with us today at: team@italyvacationspecialists.com

 

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