The Christmas season in Rome begins in early December with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Since the majority of Italians are Catholic, the feasts and rituals of that faith dominate the celebrations. Christmas ends with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. It is said that this latter feast is as special for children as Christmas Day! When you look at it like that, children in Italy go through two Christmas celebrations 🙂
Here are some ideas for celebrating Christmas and New Year’s in Rome.
On December 8th, the first Christmas celebrations are held on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Churches throughout Rome (throughout all of Italy, in fact) unveil their nativity scenes, called presepi. You can go to the Piazza del Popolo in Rome to see hundreds of these presepi. You can view a life-sized one at St. Peter’s Square.
One of the very common souvenirs they sell in Christmas markets is miniature nativity scenes as well.
Each church set up at least one nativity scene and since there are at least 900 churches in Rome, you can do the math. Just visiting nativity scenes will keep you busy the whole of December 🙂
Like with many European cities, Christmas markets are very popular in Rome as well. There are not that many as you would respect, but there are a few interesting ones.
The most popular is a traditional Christmas market in Piazza Navona. The makeshift fairground is set up on the square and runs until 6th January. It has a beautiful carousel with horses, dating back from 1896. Several stalls sell handcrafted nativity scenes and other souvenirs and there is also a puppet theater.
There is no fresh food or drinks sold, only some packaged sweets, but there are several bars and restaurants on and around the square where you can eat and drink.
Christmas market in Piazza Mazzini is a very nice market, located in Prati. This year-round market offers Christmas decorations in December and has a nice atmosphere.
Christmas market Mercato Monti in Rome is also a year-round market that also offers Christmas-related gifts and souvenirs during December. This market is popular with Romans to buy Christmas gifts for their friends and family.
The Christmas market at the Auditorium in Rome is famous for offering fair trade products and works of local artists. There is also an ice rink and a popular bar nearby.
There are a few smaller Christmas markets scattered around Rome and you can spot them by walking in the city center.
You can’t celebrate Christmas in Rome without partaking in the incredible cuisine. Natives of Italy actually fast (abstain from food) during Christmas Eve day. That’s because the evening brings an amazing meal! The Christmas Eve meal features fish since Catholics do not eat meat on the night before a major holiday.
But fish is served in multiple ways, and the meal often features at least seven different kinds of fish and seafood dishes. Enjoy linguine and clams, shrimp, cod, and eel at this opulent Christmas Eve meal.
Meals celebrating New Year feature pork instead. Sausages and roast pork are traditionally served, along with lentils. The rich meat and coin-shaped lentils symbolize the richness of the upcoming year.
Whether it’s Christmas or New Year’s feasting, restaurants in Rome pull out all the stops to serve amazing cuisine. Make sure to partake of at least one of these special meals during your visit.
And don’t forget about wine and deserts, such as the famous gelato.
New Year’s Eve is an excellent time for viewing fireworks in Rome. Along with the fireworks, there are often special bands and shows. If you stay up until midnight, you will see the displays at their peak. Wear red! It’s a sign of good luck for the upcoming year.
St. Stephen’s Day
Called La Festa di Santo Stefano, this holiday on December 26th is very important in Italy. It marks the day the wise men came to visit baby Jesus. Be prepared for many restaurants and other public places to be closed, but in Rome, there are still some museums that are open. So as you plan your holiday in Rome, plan for December 26 to be a fairly quiet day. It can actually be a nice relief from all the crowds and festivities if you plan on it.
The Feast of the Epiphany
This is the final holiday of the Christmas season, and it’s the gift-giving day – January 6th. This is traditionally a day spent with family, as most businesses are closed. The night before, children set out shoes or stockings to be filled with gifts.
Christmas in the Vatican
Christmas in the Vatican is particularly impressive as it is one of the two most important religious holidays (besides Easter). On St. Peter’s Square, in front of the obelisk, a large nativity scene and a Christmas tree are being set in December. There is another nativity scene in St. Peter’s Basilica just on the left side in the baptistery.
Many tourists and pilgrims are in Rome to celebrate Christmas and the majority of them will visit the Vatican. The Vatican Museums will be crowded, so you need to reserve in advance. For the St. Peter’s Cathedral, you can bypass the queue if you have pre-booked an audio guide or an official tour.
For Christmas Day, the Pope donates the blessing for the city and the world. You can follow the blessing live in St. Peter’s Square or via TV or via the Internet.
There are many other places to visit and things to see in Rome. Be sure to take in all the sights and scents of Rome during your holiday visit. Enjoy the Christmas atmosphere, tradition, and food. for the best Christmas experience in Rome, please check some of the guided tours from our partners: