The holidays are at last upon us in Florence, and if we are lucky, the weather will cooperate and it will start feeling a little less like summer and more like fall dropping into winter soon.
For many Americans living in Italy, Thanksgiving still stands in the way of moving on to a full-scale Christmas celebration, but beginning at the end of November, conveniently corresponding with the passing of the American holiday, holiday events begin occurring in the city. While Italy is largely Catholic and many specific events revolve around Christmas, there are also Jewish celebrations for Hanukkah in the city as well as more secular holiday traditions. Religious festivals will continue throughout the month and culminate with the Epiphany on January 6.
Most Italians will take time off work from Christmas through this celebration, and work and schools will resume afterwords. Florence Christmas festivities mainly begin towards the end of November, and there is no shortage of ways to celebrate the season. From November 15 in nearby Montecatini Terme, children will be able to visit “La Casa di Babbo Natale,” or in American terms, “Santa Claus’s house.” The magical place is a life-size replica of where Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, as he is known in Italy, lives. Closer to home, the Santa Croce German Christmas market opens at the end of the month and remains in the piazza through mid-December. Consisting of many white tents, the festival brings the spirit of true German Christmas markets to the square, offering traditional German food and drink along with unique German crafts that make perfect gifts.
From early to mid-December, Hanukkah is celebrated in the Ghetto of Florence, where the Jews were first segregated. Cosimo I decreed that the Jews were to live in the north side of the Piazza della Reppublican in 1570 in exchange for the title of Grand Duke of Tuscany from Pope Pius V. At the Florentine synagogue, located north of Santa Croce, the traditional menorah will be lit to mark the days of Hanukkah. Kosher food is also available for purchase, and the community center next door organizes other events for the Jewish community.
For those just looking for a little holiday spirit, Florence will abound with the feelings of the season from the moment the first string of lights is strung. Lo Schiaccianoci, or in English, The Nutcracker, is a wonderful holiday themed ballet and will be performed at the Teatre Comunale and more venues may be announced as the holiday season draws near. Additionally, annually an ice skating rink opens outdoors near the Piazza della Libertà, where families, couples and friends can take advantage of the cooler temperatures to skate outside. And afterwords, the holidays would not be the same without a steaming cup of Italian hot chocolate, thick and creamy.
Rivoire is particularly noted for their cocoa, but almost every cafe will be offering the warm beverage. Another notable stop, Vestri, will add gelato to your cup of hot chocolate for a unique treat. Regardless of how you choose to celebrate the season, get out there! Florence has so much to offer in the winter and as the temperatures drop, so do the number of tourists. Whether it’s finally seeing that museum that the line to get in has been intimidating you out of, or exploring the city through the Christmas lights, Florence during the holiday season is a must-see.
Student in Florence and writer