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.
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.
|il giorno dell’Immacolata Concezione (or simply l’Immacolata)||the Day of the Immaculate Concepcion|
|l'albero di Natale||Christmas tree|
|palline dell’albero di Natale||Christmas ball|
|Gesù bambino||Baby Jesus|
|Maria (Madonna)||Virgin Mary|
|St. Joseph||San Giuseppe|
|fiocco di neve||snowflake|
|pupazzo di neve||Snowman|
|bastoncino di zucchero||candy cane|
|il presepio||nativity scene|
|presepe vivente||a living nativity scene|
|mercatini di Natale||Christmas markets|
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.
|un bicchiere di spumante||a glass of sparkling wine|
|il Pandoro||Christmas sponge cake|
|il Panettone||a bread-type Christmas cake with raisins and candied fruit|
|il torroncino||little nougat|
|il torrone||Christmas chocolate nougat|
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.
|novena||the 8 days before Christmas|
|l’atmosfera di Natale||Christmas atmosphere|
|regali di Natale||Christmas present|
|Gesù Bambino||Baby Jesus|
|Babbo Natale||Santa Claus /Father Christmas|
|San Nicola||St. Nicholas|
|Santa Lucia||St. Lucy|
|Polo Nord||North Pole|
|casa di marzapane||gingerbread house|
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.
|Vigilia di Natale (la Vigilia )||Christmas Eve|
|la messa di Mezzanotte||midnight mass|
|il giorno di Natale||Christmas Day|
|pranzo di Natale||Christmas lunch|
|il Giorno di Santo Stefano||St. Stefan's Day / Dec 26th (similar to Boxing Day)|
|film di Natale||Christmas movies|
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!
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!
|l’ultimo dell’anno||end of the year|
|Capodanno / la Vigilia de Capodanno||New Year's Eve|
|La Notte di San Silvestro||New Year's Eve|
|il Veglione||New Year's Eve Dinner and Party|
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!
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).
To say happy holidays, you can go with “Buone Feste” or the longer version “Buone feste e tanti auguri “ (happy holidays and best wishes).
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!)
|Buon Natale||Merry Christmas!|
|Auguro a tutti Voi un Natale Sereno||I wish you all a Merry Christmas|
|Buone Feste||Happy Holidays!|
|Buone feste e tanti auguri||Happy Holidays and best wishes|
|Buon anno||Happy new year|
|Felice Anno Nuovo||Happy new year|
|Auguri per un felice 2019||Best wishes for a happy 2019|
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.
|il giorno dell’Epifania||the day of the Epiphany, January 6|
|il giorno della Befana||the day of the Epiphany, January 6|
|la Befana||Epiphany witch|
|Tre Re Magi||Three Kings|
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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