January in Italy starts with New Year's Eve events that last into the New Year as well as some special events on New Year's Day, often aimed at children. (One of the best known New Year's Day traditions is held at the Venice Lido beaches where bathers take a chilling dip in the water to welcome the new year.)
While the calendar of events for January is light compared to the high summer season, colder weather (in most parts of the country) and a post-Christmas lull mean fewer crowds and easier sightseeing. January is also a good time to catch some of Italy's epic winter sales when clothing and accessories stores slash prices to make room for spring/summer merchandise.
Epiphany and La Befana, Everywhere
Epiphany, the arrival of the three kings, is celebrated January 6 and is the most important Italian festival celebrated of the month. In Italy, children hang their stockings the night before waiting for La Befana, the beloved witch who delivers candy and gifts. Nativity pageants are performed around Epiphany in many places, too. Read more about Epiphany and La Befana and where to see Living Nativities in Italy.
Both New Year's Day and Epiphany are national holidays in Italy so expect many shops and services to be closed. Some museums and tourist sites are also closed so be sure to check in advance.
Fiera di Sant'Orso, Aosta
The Fiera di Sant'Orso, a woodcarvers' fair, has been around for about 1,000 years. Local restaurants serve special meals, there's entertainment, and more than 700 woodworkers have stalls to demonstrate their skills and sell wooden items. The fair is in the historic center of Aosta at the end of January.
San Antonio Abate
San Antonio Abate is celebrated on January 17 in many parts of Italy. In villages in central Italy's Abruzzo region and on the island of Sardinia on January 16 to 17, huge bonfires are lit that burn all night, and there's often also music, dancing, and drink.
San Antonio Abate is celebrated in the Sicilian town of Nicolosi, near Mount Etna, on January 17. Ceremonies begin before dawn when the monks repeat their vows of dedication to God and to the Saint. The day is filled with parades and solemn ceremonies.
Il Palio di Sant'Antonio Abate is held in the Tuscan town of Buti, near Pisa, the first Sunday after January 17. Festivities start with a procession of people wearing the colors of their neighborhood. In the afternoon, the horse race, a competition between the neighborhoods, is run with the winner taking the palio.
The Feast Day of San Sebastiano
The Feast Day of San Sebastiano is celebrated many places in Sicily on January 20. In Mistretta, a huge statue of the saint is paraded through town on a litter born by 60 men. In Acireale, there is a colorful parade with a silver carriage and singing of hymns.
In the Abruzzo region, the city of Ortona celebrates by lighting the Vaporetto, a brightly colored paper maché model of a boat, which is decorated and loaded with fireworks, in front of the Cathedral in honor of St. Sebastian.