Buon Natale – Merry Christmas
Now that you’ve learned how to say Merry Christmas in Italian, what better way to continue with your Christmas language learning than to learn some useful Italian Christmas vocabulary.
And after that, let’s have a look together at some Italian Christmas traditions, including what they eat for Christmas, when they swap gifts, and what makes an Italian Christmas.
If you’re lucky enough to spend Christmas in Italy or with an Italian family then you’ll experience a Christmas quite different from your own, but of course there are some quite obvious similarities; it is Christmas after all.
Italian Christmas Vocabulary
- Calza – stocking
- Chiesa = Church
- Santa messa = Holy mass
- Capo d’Anno = New Year’s Eve
- Brindisi – toast (as in cheers with glasses, not as in the toast you eat)
- Castagne – chestnuts
- Gesù Bambino – baby Jesus
- L’albero di natale = Christmas tree
- Gli addobbi = Decorations
- L’Epifania = Epiphany
- Le luci = Lights
- Le palline = Ornaments
- Babbo Natale = Father Christmas
- Presepe – Nativity scene
- Torroncini – nougats
- Vigilia di Natale – Christmas Eve
- Il Vischio = mistletoe
- Natale – Christmas
- I regali = Presents
- I Tre magi = The three wise men
- La Befana = Gift-bringing witch
When do the Italians celebrate Christmas?
Christmas celebrations in Italy are very similar to other Catholic countries in Europe.
Rather than the 25th being the day that Italians swap presents like the USA and UK, the main gift giving day is epiphany on the 6th January. For those of you who are unsure why this is the case. Many southern European countries swap gifts on 6th January because they believe that this is the day that the three wise men arrived, bringing gifts to the Baby Jesus. Therefore, it makes sense for them to receive gifts on the same day that Jesus did, rather than on the day he was born.
Christmas decorations usually start to be displayed around 8th December because this is the believed date of the immaculate conception and Italian is a very Catholic country, so these traditions are still incredibly important.
On Christmas Eve, Italian families usually gather to eat a special meal and then go together to midnight mass.
These Christmas traditions are very similar to traditions celebrated in other southern European countries.
What do Italians eat at Christmas?
Although Italian diet is normally full of delicious meats, Christmas is a time for a more modest diet, and Christmas dinners in Italy are made up predominantly of fish and vegetables.
Then for dessert it is common for Italians to consume sweet breads such as panettone and pandoro.
The dinner that you would eat at Christmas in Italy is very different to Italian food as you’re probably used to it in Italian restaurants.
Interesting Italian Christmas traditions
The Christmas that you’ll experience is very different to the Christmas we see in movies and on television. Rather than flashy lights, tinsel and Santa Claus everywhere, the Italians have a more refined religious Christmas celebration; it is a Catholic country after all.
The Nativity scene is a major part of Italian Christmas traditions. The Nativity scene can be dated back as far as 1025 in Naples and has become popularised since then.
Nativity scenes aren’t only found in churches and displays in cities, but are found in most people’s houses within Italy during the Christmas season. Most cribs will be put up around the 8th December (as this is the date of the immaculate conception, so this is when the Christmas season begins), but the Baby Jesus isn’t added until Christmas Eve night.
In Italy, Nativity scenes aren’t just small things you have on the shelf either. They are such an important part of Christmas in Italy that they can sometimes be metres tell, and many often don’t just stop at the stable scene. Italy is famous for having Nativity scenes that are full of people, everyday objects, politicians, whole towns, rivers, waterfalls, you name it. The Nativity scene has evolved past what it still is in many countries and is now a small scale model town.
The largest Nativity scene can be found in Naples and consists of over 600 objects.
If you get the chance to visit Italy during Christmas time then I would definitely recommend trying to go to Naples to see this Nativity scene. It really is something to be added to the bucket list.
If you’ve watched the Netflix series of Sabrina, then the yule log will be a familiar concept to you, but of course it’s a bit different in the real world.
Many Italian families have a yule log in their homes that they keep burning throughout the Christmas season, which is also a Christmas tradition which is celebrated in many homes over Europe during Christmas.
Just like in most Christmas films, carol singing is a bit part of an Italian Christmas. Some famous Italian Christmas songs include:
- Astro Del Ciel
- Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle
- Bianco Natale
- Il Tamburino
- Caro Gesù Bambino
Make sure you give some of these a listen before you go to Italy for a Christmas as you’ll definitely hear them while you’re there. And if possible, try to learn some of the words. Christmas songs are often very repetitive and it shouldn’t be too difficult to spend some time learning the words to some of these classic Italian Christmas songs.
If you’re after the perfect Christmas gift for an Italian learner, then check out our recommendations of the best Italian graded readers.
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning how to say Merry Christmas in Italian, learning some useful Italian vocabulary and finding out about Christmas traditions in Italy.
As you well know, we always love to hear from you. So if you have any experience of Italian Christmas or if you’re planning on spending Christmas in Italy this year then let us know all about your experiences in the comments below. Also if you think there’s any cool traditions that we’ve missed off then just let us know.
If you’re interested in learning other ways to say Merry Christmas in different languages, then have a look here.
We hope you have a lovely Christmas and a happy new year. And if you want to pick up some Italian in the new year then take a look at our list of top Italian textbooks.