Christmas in Rome is magical, and the Romans embrace it with both arms. Throughout the festive season, the city is filled with the scent of roasted chestnuts, the sound of choirs singing festive hymns and shop windows twinkling with illuminations.
Begin your festive explorations by witnessing one of Rome’s oldest and holiest traditions, the symbolic presepi. A highlight of the season, these decorative nativity scenes are so much a part of the festivities that the city hosts an annual exhibition at the Sale del Bramante featuring over 100 different presepi.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Rome on Christmas Eve, make sure to experience the delicious Christmas tradition of La Vigilia (The Feast of the Seven Fishes.) This special occasion is when Roman families come together to enjoy an elaborate 7-course seafood dinner. Expect an abundant feast that typically includes the much-loved local dish baccala (dried salt cod), as well as plenty of fritti (moreishsmall fried fish.)
Work off those irresistible seasonal indulgences with a stroll around Rome’s most famous Christmas market in Piazza Navona. Here, twinkling wooden stalls sell everything from traditional festive foods to stocking fillers and handcrafted toys.
After stocking up on gifts and festive treats, take a picturesque walk across the river to St Peter’s Square to admire the Vatican’s spectacular Christmas tree. Gifted every year by the Archdiocese of Elk in Poland, the tree is transported across Europe and decorated by children from hospitals across the city. Guests spending Christmas itself in Rome should do whatever they can to get tickets to Midnight Mass at St Peter’s, or the Urbi et Orbi blessing on Christmas Day.
Epiphany might signal the end of the festivities elsewhere, but in Rome it’s marked with joyful celebrations. As well as observing its Christian connotations, Italians also see Epiphany as the time when ‘La Befana,’ a wizened witch on a broomstick, delivers toys and sweets to well-behaved children. Experience the excitement of the occasion with the singing and dancing Viva la Befana parade, which begins at Via della Conciliazione and progresses to St Peter’s Square.
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