Italy is one of the best places to visit during Christmas as people get fascinated by the colorful way in which the festival is celebrated. Christmas in Italy means a season of celebrations and not just celebrating one particular day.
The three-week Christmas celebrations begin around eight days before Christmas, which falls on December 25th and continues till January 6th. Though the birth of Jesus is celebrated on December 25, other traditions and customs are observed many days in advance.
In small towns a week prior to Christmas, little children dressed as shepherds go from door to door, collecting gifts and goodies. They also sing carols and recite Christmas poems. The inspiration for this, however, remains the crèche, which is decorated in every church and even public places and homes. This nativity scene or the crèche is popular everywhere and thoroughly respected by all.
St. Peter’s square in the Vatican City is the place to be while celebrating Christmas in Italy. Around noon, people gather here in large numbers to seek blessings from the Pope. At twilight candles are lit around the Presepio (nativity scene) and people go to attend the Midnight Mass, which is mandatory. The religious aspect governs the celebrations of Christmas in Italy, and generally a meatless feast is served on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Day, however, is more fun and a large number of delicacies, essentially meat-based are served. Out of the various traditions and beliefs that make up the celebrations of Christmas in Italy, the visits by ‘La Befana’ (a mythical old lady riding a broomstick), rules the most. It is believed that ‘La Befana’ visits little children and gives away gifts while on her sojourn to meet baby Jesus. However, it is not on Christmas day that she would visit, but on the day of Epiphany that is January 6 when she undertakes her journey to Bethlehem.
In many parts of Italy, Christmas is celebrated in unique ways that entices the tourists all the more. While the city of Torino is best visited for its display of lights, people love to visit Naples for its nativity scenes or crèches. Christmas in Venice includes a grand ceremony of worship at St Mark's Basilica, while the main attraction of Christmas in Rome is the Christmas market in the Piazza Navona.
The Italian tradition of serving the dish of seven fish also attracts many. This traditional seafood meal also called "Feast of Seven Fishes" derives from the Christian tradition of abstaining from meat and milk products before Christmas Eve. It has now become a celebration of Italian seafood cuisine!
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