A dual-language article.
Learn some useful vocabulary with Italian language teacher Paola Fraioli 

Il Natale in Italia

Il Natale (Christmas) is a time for family all over Italy. In fact the saying goes ‘Natale con i tuoi e Pasqua con chi vuoi’, meaning that Christmas day has to be spent with the family while Easter can be spent with anyone we want!

Il periodo delle festività (the festive time) begins on 8 dicembre and ends on 6 gennaio. [Note no capital letters for months of the year and cardinal not ordinal numbers for the date]. But let’s see what you should expect from the holiday period if you happen to be in Italy.

Le decorazioni (decorations) are traditionally put up on La Festa dell’Immacolata (The Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th) and taken down on Epifania or Giorno della Befana (the day of Epiphany – 6th of January). The traditional albero di Natale (Christmas tree) is present in every house but the most important feature Il Presepe (the nativity scene). The word presepe comes from the Latin and means ‘manger’.

Very special festeggiamenti (celebrations) take place on la Notte di San Silvestro (the 31st of December) to dare l’addio all’anno passato (say goodbye to the past year) and to dare il benvenuto (say hello) to the New Year.

La Befana (the day of the Epiphany), the day in which Gesù  (Jesus) manifests himself to i tre Re Magi  (the three Wise Men). “Epiphaneia” in Greek means  “manifestation” and the word “Befana” derives from the Greek word. The tradition of la Befana is thought to go back as far as pre-christian times.  La Befana, an old looking but gentle woman, brings regali (presents) to children who have been good. When you ask a child here “What will Santa bring you?” in Italian you ask “Che cosa ti porta Gesù Bambino?”. It is sort of a joke in Italy to pretend that Gesù bambino bring presents to the kids.

As you probably know, food plays a big part in all of these festività (festivities – note the plural). For instance il pesce (fish) is eaten both at la vigilia  (Christmas Eve) and on l’ultimo dell’anno (the 31st of December). Order your fish well in advance or get to the pescivendolo (fishmonger) early. Il menù di Natale (Christmas day menu) tends to be lasagne followed by l’arrosto (some kind of roast meat).

Il dolce (dessert) is either il Panettone or il Pandoro. There is a bit of a divide here: northerners seem to prefer Panettone, while in the south of Italy Pandoro is a favourite.

Also, look out for the Zampognari (shepherd pipers) walking around our streets and playing those wonderful Christmas tunes!

Stavo proprio pensando (I was just thinking…): we don’t send biglietti (Christmas cards), it’s not really a tradition here.

Allora, Buon Natale e Buon Anno a tutti or Buone Feste!

There will be more on feste laiche (secular celebrations) in my next blog post.


About The Author

Paola Fraioli, a qualified teacher who is originally from Milan, has spent the last 24 years in Ireland. She loves teaching Italian and speaking languages. Having bought a house in Pacentro a few years ago, she has now moved here permanently with her family. The mountains and food are her twin passions so she is in the right place. Creativity and innovation applied! You can get in touch with Paola using our contact form below to discuss availability and prices, or subscribe to our dedicated Facebook group.

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