“By the time December arrived, the streets of Florence were less cluttered with tourists. They were now filled with large, starry luminaries that dangled from lampposts. The lights stretched from building to building in zigzaggy, glittery strands all down the street. In the Piazza del Duomo, a giant albero di Natale—the city’s Christmas tree—had been erected. People bustled about, continuing their normal routines but with a lighter step amongst the festive trappings.” — Excerpt from “Dreaming Sophia”, by Melissa Muldoon
As Sophia well knows it is that time of year when fairy lights sparkle all over Italy as people prepare for the winter holidays—the immaculate conception on December 8th, la vigilia di Natale-Christmas Eve on December 24th and of course Christmas Day on December 25th. The lights remain turned on all the way to Epiphany on January 6th, the day when the good witch—la strega buona, La Befana puts in an appearance delivering “caramelle”—candy to good little boys and girls and “carbone”—coal to those who have been naughty.
The Christmas atmosphere—atmosfera natalizia—in Florence starts early in December. Storekeepers begin to decorate their shop windows and the large holiday tree is set up in the Piazza del Duomo, between the church and the Baptistry.
On December 8th the day of the Immaculate Conception, many families traditionally set up their holiday trees and “presepe”—nativity scenes.
In Piazza Santa Croce the Florentine Christmas market pops up and remains until a few days before Christmas. At the parterre area of Florence (near Piazza della Libertà) an ice rink is set up where you can rent ice skates.
Those who wish to participate in the Mass on Christmas Day and Christmas Eve will find celebrations in most of the churches all over the city. When I lived in Florence, I joined in with the sing-a-long choir of Handel’s Messiah in a small church in the Oltrarno. It was very magical and moving.
Unlike in America, in Italy, the Christmas holidays are prolonged until January 6th when the three wise men arrived to find the babe in the manger. On this day—the day also know as “La Befana”—many Italian children receive their “big” holiday gifts. Florence celebrates Epiphany with the “Cavalcade of the Magi – a grand parade in the historical center that is a reenactment of the arrival of the three Kings complete with men on horseback and magnificent medieval costumes.
For more information on how to spend the Christmas Holidays in Florence check out this link by the Condé Nast Traveler: “What should I do in Florence, at Christmastime”. Also, I invite you to check out this absolutely stunning video by Kayla Spelling that captures the beauty of Florence’s Christmas lights! Brava Kayla!!