A friend of mine, Cath Andrews, just recently posted this article on things to do in Rome at Christmas time. She writes a great website about Italian Culture, http://www.explore-italian-culture.com.
|Our awesome lunch in the Piazza Navona at Christmas|
Christmas in Rome
By Cath AndrewsIf you're spending Christmas in Rome for the first time and wondering about things to do, here's our top ten activities which combine the magic of Rome with real Christmas traditions in Italy.
- Top priority - Christmas in Rome just wouldn't be complete without the amazing experience of the Christmas market in the Piazza Navona. There are stalls selling all shapes and sizes of 'presepi' - the nativity figures you'll see everywhere in Italy at Christmas, stalls selling Christmas ornaments, models of the Italian 'befana'' who brings the children's gifts on January 6th, stalls selling nothing to do with Christmas at all, and some old-fashioned 'knock the cans off the shelf' type stalls. Not to mention a carousel, street performers and balloon sellers. Wonderful!
(Where: Piazza Navona, from 6 December until 6 January each year).
- Admire the beautiful - and huge - Christmas trees tastefully decorated which are at all the main sites. Against the beautiful blue of a Roman sky in December they are majestic and in the dark of the evening sky they're magical.
(Various places - the best are St Peter's Square, the Colosseum and the Piazza Venezia).
- Watch 'presepi' being built: nativity scenes are one of the major Christmas traditions in Italy, but Rome's are works of art and aren't finished before Christmas week. However, if you have to leave the city before that, one of the most interesting activities in Rome is to watch the huge nativity scene inside St Peter's basilica being built. The outside nativity, which is the biggest in Rome, is screened off until it's completed. It's wonderful to watch the craftsmen at work building not just a stable scene but a complete village.
(Where: St Peter's Basilica).
- See finished presepi: the life-sized nativity scenes in every church and in key public places in Rome are a key part of Christmas traditions in Italy. Don't be surprised not to see the baby in the manger - he's always placed there at midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
(Where: St Peter's Square, Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps, and any church).
- Talking of which, midnight mass at any Italian church is worth attending but in St Peter's Basilica is a particularly special event as it's celebrated by the Pope. Inside the Basilica it's strictly tickets only, but there are big screens on St Peter's Square where thousands of people gather.
(Where: St Peter's Square, from 11p.m., Christmas Eve each year).
- See the presepi exhibition: this houses nativity scenes from all over the world as well as from the different regions of Italy. It's interesting to see how different cultures make the figures in their own image - and interesting to see the materials used which include pasta and rice as well as the more usual plaster and wood.
(Where: Sala del Bramante, Piazza del Popolo, from early December to 6 January each year. Admission charge - EUR5.50 in 2009 - 2010).
- Escape turkey - eat Italian! Turkey is not part of Christmas traditions in Italy. Family meals on Christmas Eve are always fish-based and on Christmas Day will be lots of different types of meat - lamb, chicken, beef - but no turkey!
- Pope's blessing: the Pope gives his traditional blessing from the balcony overlooking St Peter's Square at mid-day. It's one of the highlights of Christmas in Rome and televised all over the world.
(Where: St Peter's Square, mid-day, Christmas Day).
- Wander round the city: you'll find shops and most bars and restaurants are closed on Christmas Day, but you can still find lots of things to do in Rome. It's a wonderful time to wander round the city in peace and see some of the usually crowded sites with very few people to bother you.
(Where: try the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, the Colosseum, St Peter's Basilica, and walk off all that food in the beautiful Borghese Park).
- And finally, when Christmas in Rome is all over, hang around till New Year's Eve and spend it in the Piazza del Popolo. It's the place to be to celebrate New Year in Rome, the equivalent of London's Trafalgar Square, or Times Square in New York. There's plenty of singing, dancing and fireworks at midnight.
(Where: Piazza del Popolo, New Year's Eve from any time after dark!).