Christmastime is my absolute favorite time to be in Italy.
Being a country that is over 96% Catholic, it often seems like the entire country is celebrating.
The festivities last for almost a month with the season officially starting on December 8th, with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
In Florence, where I live, this is the day that the big tree lighting happens in Piazza del Duomo and the city’s Christmas lights and decorations are finally lit.
Every year I dress my dog in her Mrs. Claus outfit and head out to the piazza. We all countdown from 10 and the whole city lights up at once with the giant tree and a life-size nativity scene.
With such a festive atmosphere, it is important to know the key words and phrases of the season.
From December 8th all the way through January 6th, I’ve got you covered!
— Buone Feste! – Happy Holidays!
This can be used to express seasons greetings for the entire Christmas season.
— Buon Natale! – Merry Christmas!
— Auguri! – Well wishes! Seasons greetings!
This can be used from birthdays, to holidays, to graduations and everything in between. It is a general well wish that fits in a variety of contexts.
— Auguri per Santa Lucia! – Happy St. Lucy day!
Cocktail Party Fact: This is also known as the festival of light.
— Auguri di buon Natale! – A heartier Christmas wish than just “Buon Natale.”
— Un felice anno nuovo! / Buon Anno Nuovo – Happy New Year!
— Buon epifania! – Happy Epiphany! (January 6th)
— Buona Befana! – Happy Befana!
Cocktail Party Fact: Wondering what the Epiphany and Befana are? On January 6th the Epiphany (or Three Kings Day) is the revelation of Jesus as being the Son of God. Italians celebrate this holiday with feasts and especially the legend of the Befana, who is a kindly old witch (strega) who leaves candies (caramelle) for good girls and boys and coal (carbone) for the bad children.
Children wake up to their surprises on the morning of January 6th, as La Befana travels by night and visits them while they are sleeping.
— December 8: Festa dell’Immacolata Concezione – Feast of the Immaculate Conception
— December 13: Santa Lucia – Saint Lucy/Lucia, a festival of light celebrating St. Lucia
— December 24: La vigilia di Natale – Christmas eve
— December 25: Natale – Christmas
— December 26: Santo Stefano – Boxing day, the day after Christmas
— December 31: Notte di San Silvestro – New Year’s Eve
— January 1: Capodanno – New Year’s day
Cocktail Party Fact: This can also be used to discuss New Years Eve, as in “le feste di Capodanno” which are New Year’s eve parties.
— January 6: La Befana / La Epifania – The Epiphany
Holiday words worth knowing:
–Il presepio / Il presepe – Nativity scenes, these are immensely popular in Italy. Many cities have live scenes or life-sized nativities set up
For Italian families, nativity scenes are also displayed in the home and the set is usually passed down for generations!
— L’albero di Natale – Christmas tree
Having a Christmas tree was not the norm in Italy until fairly recently, a lot of families still don’t put up a tree.
— Il ceppo – Yule log
— Babbo Natale – Santa Clause / Father Christmas
— Il cenone – The big Christmas feast/dinner
— Il mercato di Natale – Christmas Markets
These are often German!
Have you ever celebrated Christmas in Italy? How did it compare to the festivities where you are from?
P.S. In the spirit of the season, we have put together a set of Christmas cards, in Italian, for you to give to your loved ones this holiday season. They’re free & downloadable.
Here’s what they look like: