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Christmas in Italy: Italian Vocabulary and Traditions for the Holiday Season

Christmas is definitely a big deal in Italy, so if you’re learning Italian or simply want to know how to greet your Italian friends on Christmas, this article is for you.

Here we’ll talk about Italian Christmas and New Year words and phrases, and we’ll go through a little bit of Italian Christmas traditions.

Let’s start!

Let the Christmas Festivities Begin!

As soon as November comes to a close, some Italian homes begin to display some Christmas decor.  For most families, however, the Christmas season officially kicks off on the 8th of December, during the Day of the Immaculate Concepcion, a public holiday.

At this point, you’ll start seeing lots of Christmas ornaments in homes, shops, and on the streets. Christmas markets also open, and Christmas trees now adorn the different piazzas. Christmas is in the air!

Here are some Italian vocabulary you’ll come across at this time.

Italian Christmas Vocabulary List #1

il giorno dell’Immacolata Concezione (or simply l’Immacolata)the Day of the Immaculate Concepcion
gli addobbiornaments
l'angeloangel
l'albero di NataleChristmas tree
palline dell’albero di NataleChristmas ball
Gesù bambinoBaby Jesus
Maria (Madonna)Virgin Mary
St. JosephSan Giuseppe
pastoreshepherd
nevesnow
fiocco di nevesnowflake
pupazzo di neveSnowman
la rennareindeer
slittasleigh
la ghirlandawreath
l'agrifoglioholly
campanabell
elfoelf
la candelacandle
il vischiomistletoe
bastoncino di zuccherocandy cane
il presepionativity scene
presepe viventea living nativity scene
mercatini di NataleChristmas markets

Christmas Day Approaches!

As the days become more and more festive, you can practically smell the Christmas atmosphere in the air! Or is it just some chestnuts, mulled wine, or freshly baked Christmas breads? Probably all.

The eight days leading up to Christmas can be filled with music from carollers, and in some cities like in Rome or in Southern Italy, you can enjoy music from bagpipers!

This is the perfect time to catch up on some Christmas shopping, so ready your Christmas list, get to baking some cookies, or head over to the Christmas markets to soak in some of the joyous atmosphere.

Italian Christmas Vocabulary List #2

Castagnechestnuts
caldarrosteroasted chestnuts
un bicchiere di spumantea glass of sparkling wine
il PandoroChristmas sponge cake
il Panettonea bread-type Christmas cake with raisins and candied fruit
il torroncinolittle nougat
il torroneChristmas chocolate nougat

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Who brings the gifts?

For most kids all over Italy, it has always been Gesù Bambino who brings Christmas gifts instead of Santa Claus.

This has been the case until about twenty years ago. It was only then when Santa became a prominent figure, sharing the gift delivery tasks come Christmas day. The popularity of Santa Claus can be attributed to American TV shows where Santa is often seen bringing Christmas presents.


But wait--that’s not all! In some parts of Italy such as Puglia, Christmas gifts are given by Saint Nicholas, not on Christmas but on December 5th.


In some northern regions, it is Saint Lucy who does the honors of gift-giving on December 12th!


There’s one more gift-giving personality in Italian traditions: la Befana. La Befana is some sort of an Epiphany witch who flies in the sky and brings presents to children on the day of the Epiphany. The naughty kids get a lump of coal, too!  

Now here are some more vocabulary for this part of the holiday season.

Italian Christmas Vocabulary List #3

novenathe 8 days before Christmas
l’atmosfera di NataleChristmas atmosphere
il regalogift
regali di NataleChristmas present
auguriwishes
Gesù BambinoBaby Jesus
Babbo NataleSanta Claus /Father Christmas
San NicolaSt. Nicholas
Santa LuciaSt. Lucy
caminochimney
caminettofireplace
Polo NordNorth Pole
calzastocking
casa di marzapanegingerbread house
zampognaribagpipers

Christmas is finally here!

The main Christmas events begin on Christmas Eve, where families sit down and have dinner that is either lean or elaborate, depending on which traditions they follow. Some Italians prefer a light, no-meat dinner on Christmas Eve while others would go for multiple courses of fish dishes!

Then comes the midnight mass, a tradition all over Italy. After which, it’s time to head home and celebrate Christmas with a toast of sparkling wine and a slice of Christmas cakes, panettone and pandoro.

On Christmas Day, Italians would spend it with family---opening presents, playing cards, watching Christmas movies, and eating a hearty lunch.

The celebrations don’t end there, though. The day after Christmas is still a holiday, St. Stefan’s Day which is like Boxing Day in other countries. It’s time to relax some more and eat leftovers from Christmas.

Italian Christmas Vocabulary List #4

Vigilia di Natale (la Vigilia )Christmas Eve
cenoneChristmas dinner
la Chiesachurch
la messa di Mezzanottemidnight mass
festeggiareto celebrate
brindareto toast
il giorno di NataleChristmas Day
pranzo di NataleChristmas lunch
il Giorno di Santo StefanoSt. Stefan's Day / Dec 26th (similar to Boxing Day)
gli avanzileftovers
film di NataleChristmas movies

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What’s inside the Christmas stockings?

Like kids in other parts of the world, Italian children would prepare stockings, but not for Christmas day! Instead, they do it on the 5th of January, on the eve of Epiphany.


According to Italian folklore, la Befana (a witch-like character who flies in the sky on a broom) would fill the stockings with candy and toys--but only if you’re nice! The naughty ones would get a lump of coal, which by the way, is licorice-flavored and made of dark sugar.

Here are more Italian vocabulary for you!

Italian Christmas Vocabulary List #5

la calzastocking
cioccolatochocolate
dolcettisweets
caramellecandies
giochitoys

Next up: New Year Celebrations!

Finally, the New Year approaches. It all begins with aperitivo on New Year’s eve, followed by a grand dinner. Then it’s a countdown till the new year!

Italian New Year Vocabulary

l’ultimo dell’annoend of the year
Capodanno / la Vigilia de CapodannoNew Year's Eve
La Notte di San SilvestroNew Year's Eve
il VeglioneNew Year's Eve Dinner and Party

How to Say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in Italian

"Auguri!"

Of course, you need to learn how to greet a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in Italian. The simplest way to do so would be to say “Auguri!” which is a catch-all phrase for all occasions. It means, “Best wishes!” You can use it during the holiday season, too!

Merry Christmas in Italian

To greet people a Merry Christmas in Italian, you say, “Buon Natale!” If you’re writing it in, let’s say, a Christmas card, you can write, “Auguro a tutti Voi un Natale Sereno” (I wish you all a Merry Christmas).

Happy Holidays in Italian

To say happy holidays, you can go with “Buone Feste” or the longer version “Buone feste e tanti auguri “ (happy holidays and best wishes).

Happy New Year in Italian

You can either go with “Buon anno” or “Felice Anno Nuovo”. If you want to be more specific, you can say instead, “Auguri per un felice + year”. For example, “Auguri per un felice 2019!” (Best wishes for a happy 2019!)

To recap:

Christmas and New Year Greetings in Italian

AuguriBest wishes
Buon NataleMerry Christmas!
Auguro a tutti Voi un Natale SerenoI wish you all a Merry Christmas
Buone FesteHappy Holidays!
Buone feste e tanti auguriHappy Holidays and best wishes
Buon annoHappy new year
Felice Anno NuovoHappy new year
Auguri per un felice 2019Best wishes for a happy 2019

The end of all feasts: Epiphany

Just as the Italian Christmas festivities begin on December 8th, all of it ends on January 6th, on the Day of the Epiphany. There’s an Italian saying that goes, “L’Epifania tutte le feste si porta via” (Epiphany takes all feasts with her). And so ends the long Italian Christmas revelries.

Italian Vocabulary: Epiphany

L’EpifaniaEpiphany
il giorno dell’Epifaniathe day of the Epiphany, January 6
il giorno della Befanathe day of the Epiphany, January 6
la BefanaEpiphany witch
Tre Re MagiThree Kings

Conclusion

Christmas in Italy is a long and happy celebration with family and good food. Hope you learned a thing or two about Italian Christmas traditions and vocabulary!

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