Disclaimer: Due to COVID-19 concerns, many events might be canceled, postponed, or changed into limited versions, sometimes at very short notice. Please check with the local tourism authorities and event organizers directly for the latest updates.
Christmas traditions in Rome
Christmas season in Rome is special, thanks to delicious traditional food and colourful nativity scenes, called presepe or presepio. Holidays begin on December 8th, when the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (La Immacolata Concezione) is celebrated. On this day, festive illumination is all over Rome. Lighting up the streets is more of a Northern European tradition, but has recently spread to Italy. Christmas trees have also only become popular in the last few decades, there are not as many in Rome as there are in Scandinavian or German cities. One of the largest Christmas trees is set in front of the Altar of the Fatherland (Altare della Patria) and is lavishly decorated with lights, as well as the rest of downtown Rome. Walking around downtown has become more festive with Christmas decorations.
The biggest concentration of holiday lights can be observed in touristic areas—the Spanish Steps, Trastevere Street, and via del Corso. Piazza Navona is glowing at night. It also has a large nativity scene, a carousel, and a Christmas market. Holiday fairs are not typical for Italy, so it is not as large as Northern European cities.
Christmas in Vatican
The Vatican, of course, is one of the most special Christmas destinations. Saint Peter's Square Christmas Tree is glorious and very tall. The tradition to put a decorated tree in front of St. Peter's Basilica appeared in the Vatican City in 1982 with Pope John Paul II, who apparently was used to this custom in his home country of Poland.
Nativity scene on Saint Peter's Square
Another highlight in Saint Peter's Square is a life-size nativity scene with seventeen statues, some of them created in 1842 by Saint Vincent Pallotti. The scene also has 13 wooden figures, animal figures and household items to illustrate daily life.