December Festivals and Holidays in Italy

Festive Celebrations Around the Christmas Season

Christmas tree at Colosseum at dusk
••• Getty Images/Richard I'Anson

December celebrations and events in Italy naturally revolve around the Christmas season. The winter Italian holidays are the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception (December 8), Christmas Eve and Day, and Saint Stephen's Day, the day after Christmas. But there are also many festivals, many in honor of saints. In addition, olive oil is widely celebrated in December, when the new oil is usually pressed.

Here are several Italian holidays and celebrations that fall at the end of the year.

Florence Noel

This holiday in the city of Florence (hence the name) starts at the end of November and runs through the first week of December. Florence Noel is a family event with lots of children's activities including the house of Babbo Natale, father Christmas. There's also a nativity village, food, chocolate, and music. Admission charge.

Wild Boar Festival

The wild boar festival (Suvereto Sagra del Cinghiale) in the medieval Tuscan town of Suvereto, in the Livorno province, is a 10-day festival starting at the end of November and lasting through December 8, when there's a big feast. Besides wild boar, you'll find other products from the area including wine, olive oil, and honey. The festival includes people in medieval costume and medieval competitions, so it's still a great event even if you don't like boar.

Perugia Christmas Festival

Located in La Rocca Paolina, the city's historic 16th-century fortress, this huge market features a wide variety of food and crafts, as well as workshops for adults and children. It runs early December through early January in Perugia, the capital of Umbria.

Saint Barbara Day

The highlight of the week-long celebration in honor of Saint Barbara is December 4 in the Sicilian town of Paterno on the slopes of Mount Etna volcano.

Afterwords, there is a parade where the nativity scene is erected. Saint Barbara is the town's patron saint and the protectress of firemen and firework makers. She has been called upon many times as protection against Mount Etna's eruptions.

Saint Nicolas Feast Day

This Christian festival is celebrated December 6 in many places in the Abruzzo region with traditional loaves of bread and taralli, hard, round biscuits, often enjoyed with wine. Saint Nicholas is known as the bringer of gifts, and grandfathers dress up as the Saint and give gifts to the children (including "coal" made of sugar for those children who have been bad).

Festa di San Nicolo

Located on Murano Island in Venice is a week-long celebration for San Nicolo, the patron saint of glass blowers. There's a procession on the water December 6.

Saint Ambrogio Day

Celebrated December 7 in the Sant'Ambrogio area of Milan, Saint Ambrogio Day honors the patron saint of Milan. The day begins with a special church service at one of the city's oldest churches, Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio. Stalls are set up in the neighborhood--called the Oh Bej! Oh Bej! street market--selling a variety of local food and drinks as well as art and crafts.

Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception

Falling on December 8, Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception is a national holiday.

There are celebrations throughout Italy, and the churches hold special masses. You'll find parades, feasts, and music in many places. In the Abruzzo region, it is often celebrated with bonfires and traditional singing. Rome celebrates with floral wreaths and a ceremony at the Spanish Steps presided over by the Pope. Although government offices and banks are closed, many stores stay open for holiday shopping. 

Soul Christmas

In the theaters and churches of Lake Trasimeno is a huge festival of free gospel music, running from December 8 through January 6. 

Santa Lucia Day

December 13 is celebrated in many Italian towns with Santa Lucia Day. One of the biggest celebrations is in Sicily where the city of Siracusa holds a huge parade carrying the saint on a golden coffin to the Church of Santa Lucia.

On December 20 there is another parade to return her to the crypt. There are celebrations all week and thousands of pilgrims come to Siracusa. The festivities end with a big fireworks display over the harbor.

Christmas in Italy

Christmas and Christmas Eve are generally celebrated with friends and family, but you will find cities filled with nativity scenes and decorated trees during the Christmas season.

Saint Stephen's Day

The day after Christmas is a national holiday in Italy. Whereas Christmas Day is time spent at home with family, Saint Stephen's Day is a time to walk the streets and visit nativity scenes, offering donations to the local churches. Some towns' members visit hospitals while others hold processions dedicated to Saint Stephen.

And to end the year with a bang, New Year's Eve is celebrated with fireworks throughout Italy.