There is nothing like enjoying the holiday season in the Eternal City. With plenty of lights, Christmas trees, and not to mention loads of food, Rome is the perfect place to celebrate this December. Read on to discover the traditional festivities and learn about what you can expect to find in Rome during the holidays!
Holiday Spirit is in the Air!
To say Happy Holidays in Italian, simply say “Buone Feste!”
Rome dazzles visitors at every time of year – but there’s something especially magical about December! The holiday season evokes a sense of warmth and community around the city for families of all religions. Not to mention, during the “low season” the biggest must-sees and museums are less crowded than in the warmer months!
One thing that is surely abundant during this time of year is holiday spirit. Since the Vatican is one of the largest centers of Christianity in the world, you can imagine that Christmas is celebrated in a monumental way right next door in Rome. Around this time of year, nearly every Italian family gathers together to exchange gifts and enjoy massive feasts. Besides celebrating on Christmas Eve and Christmas, Italians also partake in festivities on the 26th of December for St. Stephen’s Day.
Whether you speak Italian or not, you will definitely feel the love here. While eating out or walking through the streets this winter, it is likely that you will hear a few festive phrases. For example, Buon Natale means Merry Christmas in Italian. Alternatively, you can say Buone Feste, which translates to Happy Holidays. Last but not least, to say Happy New Year you can say Felice Anno Nuovo!
Lights & Decorations are Everywhere
Make sure to take a stroll through Rome’s city center as the streets are lined with twinkling lights
While walking through the picturesque streets and historic city center of Rome, you will surely not be disappointed with the bountiful amount of glistening light displays. To say the least, most restaurants, shops, and apartment buildings deck their halls to the max. Some of the most scenic streets are found near the Spanish Steps on Via Condotti and Via del Corso. Other neighborhoods worth a visit during the holidays are Trastevere, Prati, and Monti which are also well known for their fantastic decorations.
Christmas trees? We have plenty! If you want to take a really memorable Christmas card photo, you and your family can pose in front of the giant Christmas tree at the iconic Colosseum. Some other notably beautiful trees to see are located outside of St. Peter’s Basilica and in Piazza Venezia. Last year, the American media company, Netflix, offered Rome a grandiose holiday gift to display in the center of Piazza Venezia: a €376,000, 20-meter-tall Christmas tree complete with Netflix-themed decorations!
Wondering when to plan your visit? Following tradition, most trees are set up on the 8th of December following the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and are taken down around the 6th of January after the celebration of Epiphany.
The Food & Drinks Never Stop Coming!
You have to taste Pandoro, a traditional holiday dessert!
Now for everyone’s favorite part about family gatherings during the holidays, the food! While pizza and pasta are enjoyed year round, there are some seasonal specialities that you should consider trying this holiday season. One beverage that will surely please both adults and kids alike is cioccolata calda, the Italian equivalent of hot chocolate but with a bit of a thicker consistency. For braver souls, who are also old enough to consume alcohol, try out a caffè corretto. This drink will be sure to warm you up on a cold winter day as it is a mix between espresso and grappa, a grape-based alcohol!
Rome is also well known for its fair share of sweets. To start, Pandoro is a tall, fluffy, star-shaped cake often topped with powdered sugar. This delicious cake practically melts in your mouth while eating it! Another option that will surely satisfy your sweet tooth is Panettone, a dome shaped treat which is filled with candied fruits and raisins. Last but not least, Torrone is a nutty confection made of egg whites, honey, and sugar that comes with a tasty crunch! If you don’t have the time to make these classic desserts at home, you can easily find them at most Italian bakeries and grocery stores.
On to the Main Course!
To celebrate Christmas Eve, many Italians partake in what is known as The Feast of The Seven Fishes. This traditional dinner consists of seafood ranging from prawns and spaghetti with clams, to fresh fish. On Christmas day however, plates are usually filled with lasagna, roasted meats such as lamb, and tasty side dishes like oven-baked potatoes. Following all of that feasting, a variety of soups and broths are often go-to dishes as they are lighter and easier to digest.
Can’t wait to indulge in these classic holiday dishes? Make sure to book a table at your preferred restaurant in advance and sit down for a long, Italian-style meal or simply indulge in the chestnuts roasting on an open fire served on the Roman streets! To try out more Italian specialities check out our Tastes of Rome Food Tour.
Nativity Scenes, Also Known as Presepi, are a Crafty Tradition
The nativity scene located in St. Peter’s Square is always spectacular
One of the often overlooked beauties in Rome during Christmas time are the abundant nativity scenes known as presepi in Italian. Small family homes, local shops, and most churches in Rome create these gorgeous displays for all to see during the holidays. While some are small and handmade, others are monumental and crafted by expert artists.
One of the most famous nativity scenes can be found in St. Peter’s Square. Every year, a larger than life size display is constructed in front of the central obelisk as a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. On your next trip to Rome, be on the lookout for these crafty nativity scenes as as they are made with hard work and spread a ton of holiday cheer!
There are Plenty of Places to Shop for the Perfect Gift
Find the perfect gifts in Rome’s bustling shopping district or at Piazza Navona’s festive Christmas market
Want to pick out your presents in person this year? Look no further than Rome’s city center for world renowned shopping. However, don’t expect to have the streets all to yourself and many Italians have the same idea as you do!
Via Condotti, the street directly in front of the Spanish Steps, is known for its luxury designer shopping. During the holidays, the window displays are a show in themselves to look at! Don’t worry if you don’t have a big budget though because Via del Corso, located just one cross street ahead, has plenty of reasonably priced shops and souvenirs for all your holiday gift buying needs.
Nothing speaks to Christmas lovers like a good ol’ fashioned holiday market! Fortunately, Rome’s piazzas fill up with vendors every year, complete with handmade goodies, stocking stuffers, and more. One of the most famous Christmas markets in Rome in found in Piazza Navona. Each year, booths are set up alongside the Church of St. Agnese in Agone and Bernini‘s Fountain of the Four Rivers, usually accompanied by street musicians and even a carousel!
Get a Glimpse of the Pope at a Papal Mass or Blessing
Make your holiday memorable by attending a free religious ceremony and have a chance to see the pope in person!
While the pope hosts regular masses and blessings throughout the year, there are a few special celebrations in December! To start, each year the pope makes a special public appearance for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This celebration takes place on December 8 in Piazza Mignanelli next to the Spanish Steps and is completely free to attend! Around noon, a moment of prayer will be led by the pope while firemen replace the floral wreath on the statue of the Virgin Mary.
For Christmas Eve on December 24, the “Midnight Mass” also takes place inside of St. Peter’s Basilica. Though attending this unforgettable and gorgeous ceremony is free, make sure to request tickets far in advance to reserve your spot as seats tend to go fast. See instructions on how to request tickets at The Catholic Traveler.
If you can’t make it on Christmas Eve don’t fret because you will also have the chance to see the Pope himself at noon on Christmas day for the Urbi et Orbi as well as on the 26th for a blessing. There are no tickets required to attend these special papal addresses, just make sure to get to St. Peter’s Square as early as possible because large crowds are always expected.
Even if you are not religious, witnessing events like this in Rome make for a once in a lifetime experience. To take in the beauty and learn more about the vast history behind the Vatican, join us for a specialized tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, and the Sistine Chapel.
Ice Skating, Roman Style
While many visitors don’t expect it, the city of Rome hosts a few temporary ice-skating rinks for the holidays. One of the most popular is located right next to the Castle of Sant’ Angelo in Piazza Adriana. With spectacular views, this ice skating rink makes for a fun and festive activity fit for the whole family!
Except a Not-So-White December
It probably won’t snow this Christmas, but it may get chilly and wet so pack accordingly
If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, you will most likely be out of luck because it rarely snows here in Rome. However, it did happen once in February 2018 and it sure was a spectacular sight to behold! Nuns were having snowball fights, children were sledding across cobblestones, the Trevi Fountain was surrounded by snowmen, and the Colosseum looked oh-so-dreamy. Don’t get your hopes up though because it is unlikely to snow in Rome this December. However, cold weather and rain are likely to be in the forecast so make sure to bundle up!
The average daytime temperature in Rome during December is 49 degrees Fahrenheit, or 10 degrees Celsius. However, the temperature can drop by a decent amount during the night so make sure to pack a warm jacket, scarf, and pair of gloves just in case. Rain boots and an umbrella are smart items to bring as well. Whatever the weather may be this winter, Rome’s beauty will surely shine through.
Celebrate the New Year in Style
Watch beautiful fireworks above Rome’s most recognizable monuments this New Years Eve!
Rome goes big for holidays throughout the year and hosts quite the party for New Year’s Eve! To celebrate the Italian way, enjoy a large and traditional dinner on December 31 known as cenone. Looking for a place to eat? Check out the New Year’s Eve menu at Ditirambo located in the heart of Rome. For an even more luxurious experience, dine at one of Rome’s Michelin-star restaurants such as Glass in Trastevere which already has its courses planned for this year.
After dinner, you can take your pick of where to celebrate the new year, or capodanno in Italian, whether it be at one of Rome’s piazzas or monuments, or a nightclub. This year, a huge event will take place in Circus Maximus, the ancient arena where chariot races were once held! Complete with an orchestra, acrobats, and music of all genres, this enormous outdoor party will surely be a blast. No matter where you ring in the new year, make sure to head to a good viewpoint at midnight as fireworks will be going off throughout the city!
Enjoy the Holiday Season in the Eternal City on a Tour With Us!
Are you planning a trip to Italy this winter? Join us for a specialized tour in one of our stunning Italian destinations and make memories that will last a lifetime! For more information or to arrange a tour check out What a Life Tours or contact us by phone +39 06 88975757/+39 334 7273299 (WhatsApp), or email at [email protected]!