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Natale all’italiana


In Italy the beginning of the Christmas holidays can vary. This depends on the area in which people live and can be anywhere from the first Sunday of Advent, which this year fell on Nov. 28, St. Nicholas Day on Dec.  6 or Dec.  8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. For the most part the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (l’Immacolata Concezione) is the most recognized day as the season’s start. Though a Catholic holy day, it is also recognized as a national Italian holiday, with all public offices and schools closed.

The second most popular day for welcoming in the Christmas season in Italy is the Feast of St. Nicholas (La Festa di San Nicola). In areas where he is venerated, festivities commence when traditional celebrations take place to honor him and ring in the season. The most well-known takes place on the eve of St. Nicholas Day when children place their shoes by the fireplace (vicino il focolare), or under their bed (sotto il letto). The next morning the children find their shoes filled with little presents from the great saint.

From the season’s onset to the last day of the season on Jan. 6, the Epiphany (l’Epifania), a number of other Christmas-related holidays are observed. Dec.  13 is the Festa di Santa Lucia; Dec.  24 is La Vigilia di Natale and Dec.  26 is the Festa di Santo Stefano. La Festa degl’Innocenti takes place on Dec.  28 and La Festa di San Silvestro or La Vigilia di Capo d’Anno is observed on Dec. 31. Some Italians still practice the tradition of the Festa del Candelora on Feb. 2 when they take down the presepio. Another celebration, though not a holiday per se, is Dec. 16, known as La Novena di Natale. Novena, Latin for the ordinal number, ninth, indicates the nine-day period prior to Christmas Day.  Activities begin in full force, especially the visit to the presepi by the zampognari to serenade il Bambino Gesu`.

If you want to increase or improve your Italian Christmas vocabulary, here are some words and expressions to practice before the big day arrives:

Let’s start with greetings for the season.

Buon Natale = Merry Christmas

Buon Capo d’Anno or Buon Anno Nuovo = Happy New Year

Buone Feste = Happy holidays

Now let’s move onto other useful Christmas holiday expressions:

  • addobbo / addobbi = decoration / decorations
  • albero / alberi di Natale = Christmas tree / trees
  • angelo / angeli = angel / angels
  • Babbo Natale = Santa Claus
  • la Befana = the Befana Christmas witch
  • calza / calze = stocking / stockings
  • camino / camini = chimney / chimneys
  • campanella / campanelle = bell / bells
  • candela / candele = candle / candles
  • canto natalizio / canti natalizi = Christmas carol / carols
  • carta da regalo = wrapping paper
  • chiesa / chiese = church / churches
  • elfo / elfi = elf / elves
  • festeggiare = to celebrate
  • Gesù Bambino = Baby Jesus
  • il giorno di Natale = Christmas Day
  • il giorno di Santo Stefano = Feast of St. Stephen (Boxing Day)
  • Giuseppe = Joseph
  • inverno = winter
  • luce / luci = light / lights
  • stella / stelle = star / stars
  • Maria = Mary
  • mercatino / mercatini di Natale = Christmas market / markets
  • la messa di Mezzanotte = midnight mass
  • Natale = Christmas
  • neve = snow
  • pallina / palline = ball / balls
  • pandoro = a traditional Italian sweet bread for the Christmas season
  • panettone = an traditional Italian cake for the Christmas season
  • pranzo di Natale = Christmas lunch
  • pregare = to pray
  • presepe / presepi = Nativity scene / scenes
  • pupazzo / pupazzi di neve = snowman / snowmen
  • regalo / regali = gift / gifts
  • renna / renne = reindeer / reindeers
  • San Nicola = St. Nicholas
  • slitta / slitte = sleigh / sleighs
  • i Tre Re Magi = the Three Kings
  • la vigilia di Natale = Christmas Eve
  • vin brulè = mulled wine

Though Sardinia is one of Italy’s 20 regions, the region has the official linguistic status as a distinct Romance language with distinct dialects within it. Here is how northern Sardinian compares to Italian when expressing Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Since Corsica lies just north of Sardinia, we included the Corsican holiday greetings. While French is the official language, it shares the Corsican language as an official language, which is actually an Italic language closer to Italian.

Sardu: Bon Nadale, Bon’annu.
Italiano: Buon Natale. Buon’anno.
Corso: Bon Natale. Bon annu.

This month’s falso amico

It is congresso, which in English basically does not translate to as congress. In means convention, as an assembly of persons met for a common purpose. Eg: a comic book convention or a meeting of the delegates of a political party for the purpose of formulating a platform and selecting candidates for office.

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