Christmas is the second biggest holiday in Italy (Easter remains the biggest holiday) and that means the country celebrates with many unique holiday traditions. Across Italy, Natale tends to be a family-centric holiday, a time to return home if you have moved away or to stay at home with loved ones. Customs vary from region to region, from dishes served to when to open presents. These customs make every part of the country a fascinating place to enjoy Christmas. Many of the customs that came to U.S. are from the southern regions of Italy and were brought by immigrant families during the 19th and 20th centuries. During this Christmas season, The Italian Tribune will visit, in words and pictures, the 20 regions of Italy, beginning in the south, through the central part of the peninsula to the northern most regions in a three part series.
This issue features the regions of the southern part of Italy – Abruzzo, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria, Campania, Molise and Sicily.
The Christmas season could be said to truly begin in the region of Campania in the town of Castellammare di Stabia, situated on the Bay of Naples, about 18 miles southeast of Naples. During the evening of December 7th, people light huge bonfires called focaracchi in each neighborhood of the city and celebrate until the morning of the 8th.
In the region of Campania, travelers can get into the festive spirit all along the coast and into the interior towns and villages. Whether holiday shopping under the Christmas lights in Sorrento, in the quaint streets of Castellabate or bustling Naples, you will find traditional markets and plenty to celebrate during the Christmas season.
Although the shops on Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples are open all year around, before Christmas this narrow street becomes the soul of the city. It is chaotic, noisy, colorful and unforgettable! Neapolitans come here to stock up on hand-made figurines for their nativity scenes, to buy presents and exchange festive greeting. Artisans not only make the traditional Biblical characters but also create modern day politicians and celebrities.
The city of Salerno has taken holiday lights to another level with their whimsical and creative Luci d’Artista displays. Stroll through the medieval streets of Salerno’s historic center through Il Giardino Incantato – The Enchanted Garden, where you’ll discover dragons and fairies surrounded by a world of colorful floral lights. It’s a magical setting for holiday shopping in Italy.
Further down the coast and tucked inside the medieval streets of a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Christmas market at Castellabate is filled with vendors, craftspeople and Christmas lights that line the winding streets and lanes of one of Italy’s most beautiful historic towns. Market stalls sell traditional Italian Christmas sweets as well as crafts, such as ceramics, embroidery, paintings and jewelry. Even local schools set up stalls with children selling crafts and gifts that they make during the school year.
One of the most beautiful drives in the world is along the fabulous Amalfi Coast during the holidays to see the Christmas lights in each of the little villages along the route. Each town has a unique design every year, with some of the most elaborate displays in the villages of Amalfi, Minori, Positano and Ravello. Another popular Christmas destination in Campania is the pretty town of Sorrento, where the historic center twinkles during the holidays, especially under the lights of the huge Christmas tree in Piazza Tasso. Celebrations continue with street performances on weekends, classical music concerts in the churches, a Christmas treasure hunt and a Villaggio di Babbo Natale at Villa Fiorentino.
If you would like to warm up your bones during this season, a visit to the island of Ischia to bathe in its natural thermal springs might be in order! Enjoy the warm Mediterranean waters of the Baia di Sorgeto when temperatures are chilly and visit the living Nativity scene held at Casamicciola Terme between December 21st and January 7th.