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Natale all’italiana


Unlike the United States, that generally recognizes Thanksgiving as the day that ushers in the nation’s Christmas holiday season, in Italy “the season opener” can vary depending where in Italy you are, it can be anywhere from the first Sunday of Advent, which this year fell on Nov. 28, Saint Nicholas Day on Dec. 6 or Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. For the most part the Feast of Immaculate Conception (l’Immacolata Concezione) is the most recognized day as the season’s beginning. Though a Catholic holy day, it is also recognized as a national Italian holiday, with all public offi ces 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, on that day old traditions are played out to honor him and ring in the season. The most well-known tradition is on the eve of St. Nicholas Day when children place their shoes by the fi replace (vicino il focolare), or under their bed (sotto il letto). The next morning the children fi nd their shoes fi lled with little presents from the great saint.

From the season’s onset to the last day of the season Jan. 6, the Epiphany (l’Epifania) other Christmas related-holidays take place Dec. 13, Festa di Santa Lucia; Dec. 24, La Vigilia di Natale; Dec. 26, Festa di Santo Stefano; Dec. 28, Festa degl’Innocenti and Dec. 31, La Festa di San Silvestro or La Vigilia di Capo d’Anno. Some Italians still hold the tradition of the Festa del Candelora on Feb. 2 when they take down the presepio. Another day, though not a holiday per se, is Dec. 16, known as La Novena di Natale. Novena, Latin for the ordinal number, ninth, indicates the 9-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 – Merry Christmas Happy New Year
Buone Feste – Happy Holidays

Now let’s move onto other useful Christmas holiday time 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

to celebrate

Gesù Bambino
Baby Jesus

il giorno di Natale
Christmas Day

il giorno di Santo Stefano
Feast of St. Stephen
(Boxing Day)



luce / luci
light / lights

stella / stelle
star / stars


mercatino / mercatini di Natale
Christmas market / markets

la messa di Mezzanott
midnight mass



pallina / palline
ball / balls

a traditional Italian cake for the Christmas season

an traditional Italian cake for the Christmas season

pranzo di Natale
Christmas lunch

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

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