By Ela Vasilescu – Writer – –

The Christmas atmosphere in Florence, as in many Italian cities, starts in early December.

Courtesy of Andrea Ristori, photographer
Courtesy of Andrea Ristori, photographer

The pastry shops begin to smell like childhood, the window displays seem detached from fairytales and the narrow streets of the city are decorated with the traditional Christmas lights.

On December 8th a large Christmas tree is set up in the magnificent setting of Piazza del Duomo along with the Nativity scene, located to the front and left of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. Nativity scenes, also known as ‘presepe’ are displayed in many churches and piazzas and crafting these ornate works of art by hand remains an artisanal tradition in many parts of the country.

Bagpipes are the most common Italian Christmas sound. The zampognari, the shepherds who play the bagpipes, come down from their mountain homes at Christmas time and perform in the market squares. Modern zampognari wear the traditional outfits of sheepskin vests, leather breeches, and a woolen cloak. Today, the zampognari perform their own private pilgrimage, stopping before every shrine to the Madonna and every Nativity scene. In almost all of Italy, Christmas Eve is celebrated with a typical dinner of fish. Known in Italian as “la Vigilia di Natale”, the term “vigilia” is characterized by fasting, therefore meat is banned from the Christmas Eve dinner.

One of the most beautiful Christmas traditions in Italy is the Urn of fate; small presents are wrapped and placed into a large ornamental bowl and in turn each member of the family picks one until they have all been distributed.

Christmas day is family day in Italy. There is an old saying, “Natale con i tuoi, pascqua con chi vuoi!” meaning Christmas with your own [family], and Easter with whoever you want. Families gather together around the table serving regional specialties such as stuffed pasta (tortellini, cappelletti, agnolotti), luxurious second courses such as stuffed or boiled capon, guinea fowl or venison, lamb or sausage meat, followed by delicious desserts like pandoro or the traditional panettone.

After lunch many families stroll through the beautiful streets of the city, meeting friends and neighbors, wishing them a Buon Natale! For those who are travelling, there are many restaurants that offer set-menu Christmas lunches as well as wonderful events and concerts organized in the main squares of the city.

As if Tuscany wasn’t spectacular enough at any time of the year, the magic of Christmas makes it a truly wonderful, unforgettable place to spend your holidays. Merry Christmas!!! Buon Natale!!!