I Mercatini di Natale (Christmas Markets) are a big tradition in Europe and Italy hosts many of those in either big cities and small villages. They may last for a couple of days to a month or even go on after Epiphany on January 6th. It is a lovely occasion to stroll around the stalls, meet up with friends, buy small presents, and drink spiced wine punch while looking at the big clouds of “smoke” coming out of your mouth.
In Tuscany there are several Christmas fairs, with one of the most popular - the German Christmas Market (Mercato Tedesco di Natale) - being held in Piazza Santa Croce in Florence. The merchants here sell typical German crafts, but also nativity crafts made in Italy, children's toys, and seasonal treats. Another lovely Christmas market is Florence Noel, at the Stazione Leopolda. The little ones can have their picture taken with Santa Claus, which in Italy goes by as Babbo Natale (Father Christmas). Still in Tuscany, Siena, Arezzo, Montepulciano, and Pisa also hold several Christmas markets during December.
Visiting the Eternal City is a must even more so during the Christmas holiday season, because Rome is the place where the celebration of Christmas originated. The first Christmas mass was said at the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore and the earliest known permanent nativity was created for the Rome Jubilee in 1300. In December Piazza Navona is transformed into a huge Christmas market that hosts stands selling all kinds of Christmas sweets, toys, nativity crafts and decorations. A carousel and Babbo Natale are present to the delight of the kids, and later on, a large nativity scene is erected in the square.
Naples holds a December Christmas market known for its many nativity workshops. Some vendors even dress in traditional shepherd costume, whereas Sorrento, on the beautiful Amalfi peninsula in the Bay of Naples, holds one in the main square that goes on till Epiphany.
If you're visiting Italy in the coming weeks, I would suggest leaving the museums behind for a day, venture outside and immerse yourself in the festive atmosphere of the Christmas markets.
by Nicoletta Lucia Paganucci