Any season of the year is a good time to visit Rome, but during Christmas Holidays and New Year’s the capital of Italy looks especially enchanting.
CHRISTMAS FESTIVITY – A BIT OF HISTORY
Christmas festivities in Rome generally begins with the feast of the Immaculate conception, a holy day that falls on the 8th of December and celebrates the conception of the Virgin Mary without any stain. It was established as a bank holiday by Pope Clemente XI in 1708.
Holidays last until the 6th of January, day of Epiphany, which commemorates the visitation of the Biblical Magi to the Baby Jesus. It is also called feast of the Befana, especially among the young, since in Italian folklore the Befana is an old woman who hands out gifts to children, mostly sweets.
GETTING AROUND ROME
During Christmas festivities, streets sparkle with plenty of glistening festive lights everywhere in the city. Shoppers, both locals and tourists, flock in the most central areas of the city to buy their Christmas gifts and souvenirs and groups of musicians, sometimes dressed as Santa Clause, enliven the atmosphere playing traditional Christmas songs.
In this period streets get very crowded at almost every time of the day, and sometimes traffic can be annoying, but it is always well worth going for a stroll along Via del Corso or about the elegant boutiques of Spanish Steps!
On the 25th of December the Metropolitana, Rome’s underground railway, shuts down completely, and buses run on an extremely reduced frequency. That is why it is strongly advisable to limit long travels, and you should always keep informed with the official ATAC website of public transport system. Taxes provide services but are usually in short supply.
CHRISTMAS TREES IN ROME
Several Christmas trees are erected in Rome in early December, and stays for about a month. Two of the largest Christmas trees are placed in Piazza Venezia, in front of the Vittoriano, and before the Colosseum, symbol of the Eternal city. They are richly decorated with glittering lights and garlands. Other Christmas trees in Rome stands on the Capitoline Hill, in front of the Capitoline Museums and in Saint Peter’s square.
CHRISTMAS MARKET AND FOOD IN ROME
Piazza Navona is one of the most beautiful example of Roman Baroque architecture, also famouse for the stunning Bernini’s Fountain of the Four Rivers. During Christmas festivity, the square turns into a huge open-air Christmas market, where you can find dozens of stalls selling all kind of goods, especially Christmas-related ornaments. You can also buy various handicrafts, nativity figures, decorations, wooden toys, sweets, and much more.
As far as food is concerned, anyone who visit Rome during Christmas festivities can’t miss trying the delicious Italian Christmas sweets. Among the most popular is the world famous Torrone: a nougat confection made of honey, sugar, and egg white with toasted almonds, usually shaped into a rectangular tablet. A most common variant is prepared with chocolate. Another famous Christmas sweet is the Panettone, a kind of fluffy bread containing candied orange, citron, lemon zest, and raisins. Many other variations are available such as plain (Pandoro) or with chocolate.
NATIVITY SCENES AND CHRISTIAN MASS IN ROME
Nativity scenes, called Presepio in Italian, are set up in all the major churches of Rome during Christmas days. The most famous and impressive one is the life-size crib located in Saint Peter’s square. Every year, it takes several weeks to arrange it, so preparations begin far before Christmas holidays start.
The nativity scene in Saint Peter’s square is traditionally unveiled on Christmas’ Eve. At midnight, the Pope says mass to thousands of faithful, while on the following day, the Christmas Day, he delivers his message to an even larger crowd, from the window of his apartment overlooking Saint Peter’s square.
The other three patriarchal Basilicas of Rome, that are Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovanni in Laterano, and San Paolo Fuori Le Mura also host large cribs arranged with attention to the finest details.