How to survive an Italian Christmas party

Being invited to a Christmas party in Italy is a sure sign you're settling in. But be careful – festive gatherings can be a minefield for foreigners new to Italian social etiquette, so read our survival guide to transform yourself into the perfect guest.

How to survive an Italian Christmas party
Christmas lights in Rome. Photo: Laurent Emmanuel/AFP

What not to wear 

Say goodbye to the fluffy Christmas tree jumper. Photo: benjgibbs/Flickr

In offices in Anglo countries it’s often accepted, or even encouraged, to look a bit stupid over the holiday season. In Italy this rule does not apply. Italians take great care with their appearance, especially on special occasions – very often this means a chic, all-black outfit. So unless you're happy to stand out, we suggest you leave your reindeer jumper and Santa hat at home.

READ ALSO: The words and phrases you'll need to survive a Christmas in Italy

Be fashionably late

Italians are known for what could be described as a relaxed attitude towards punctuality, and parties are no exception. Arriving at the stated time may well mean an hour or so of awkward conversation between you and the confused host until the rest of the guests arrive. So put your extra time to good use by picking out an elegant outfit (see above) and turn up once the party’s in full swing.

Pucker up

Here's how to do the Italian cheek kissTo kiss or not to kiss? File photo: racorn/Depositphotos

Don’t be surprised if total strangers greet you with a kiss on each cheek, especially after a few drinks. It goes without saying that you should greet your friends this way – and the same applies when you say goodbye. Remember to kiss and hug everyone you spoke to at the party on your way out, otherwise they may consider you rude.

READ ALSO: Here's how to do the Italian cheek kiss

Never, ever turn down food

No matter how much you've eaten already, make sure you don’t refuse any of the food offered to you. Italians take pride in their cooking and are likely to have spent hours perfecting their dishes before serving, so saying you’re full could be perceived as an insult. Make sure you compliment the chef too – and their mum or nonna, who in all likelihood passed on the recipe.

Bring your own cake

Photo: N i c o l a/Flickr

As well as bringing your own booze (spumante is always a good choice for the festive season), you’ll go up in people’s estimations if you bring along some treats to share around as well. Italians are very fond of their Christmassy desserts – bringing some panettone, torrone, biscotti or Baci would all go down well. This is perfect if you've only moved recently and your neighbours or colleagues are still sussing you out.

Get to grips with Befana

This is an important tradition to be aware of if you're going to a party with children, which is a distinct possibility, since Christmas in Italy tends to be a family affair. Instead of – or in some cases, as well as – Father Christmas, Befana is the good witch who brings Italian children presents on Epiphany Eve (January 5th) so make sure you ask children what they are hoping to receive from her this year.

READ MORE: Six quirky traditions that make an Italian Christmas

Forget the Top 40

If it’s a family party, the playlist is likely to shun current hits and instead you’ll be treated to some Italian classics. So prepare yourself for a whole lot of Andrea Bocelli, Claudio Baglioni and Tiziano Ferro, most likely with everyone singing along. And since it’s Christmas, there’ll be plenty of carols and hymns too.

Brush up on your card games

Italians often play gambling and card games during the Christmas period like the trick-taking card game 'Bestia', the Italian version of Blackjack 'Sette e Mezzo' and 'Tombola, a type of raffle that originated in southern Italy and is particularly popular around the holidays. But don't panic if you're short on cash – normally only small amounts are wagered.

Do the tarantella

This traditional style of dance makes an appearance at every Italian celebration, at least in southern parts of the country. It is thought to date back to the Middle Ages, when victims of tarantism – caused by a tarantula’s bite – would dance frantically, sometimes for several days, to sweat the poison out and avoid falling into a deadly trance. Others would accompany them on mandolins or other instruments as a way of offering moral support.

Behave yourself 

In English-speaking countries it may be socially acceptable to drink your sorrows away during the festive time of year, but in Italy most usually manage to preserve their dignity (or at least their consciousness). Don’t expect a raucous office Christmas party with your Italian colleagues. If there's an event at all, it's likely to be a formal affair.

This article was first published in December 2016.

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Five of Italy’s most magical Christmas markets in 2021

Even though Covid cases are rising in Italy, most of the country's Christmas markets will open to spread some festive cheer and fill our hearts (and bellies) with glad tidings. Here's a rundown of five of Italy's most magical Christmas markets.

The Italian Christmas markets you should put on your wish list for 2021.
The Italian Christmas markets you should put on your wish list for 2021. Photo by Daniil Silantev on Unsplash

In 2020, many Christmas markets in Italy had to close or were scaled back because of the pandemic restrictions. This year, at least at the time of writing, lots of markets are set to open in the coming weeks.

Some have safety measures in place, such as mask-wearing and the requirement to show a green pass, so remember to check the rules before you travel.

READ ALSO: Where do you now need to show a Covid green pass in Italy?

While most of the larger and more famous Christmas markets are in the north of Italy, smaller markets and other seasonal events are held in towns and cities all over the country.

With that said, here are five of the most enchanting Christmas markets in Italy that count among our favourites.

Photo by on Unsplash

Trento, Trentino–Alto Adige

‘I mercatini di Trento’ is one of Italy’s most famous Christmas markets. Set in the northern region of Trentino-Alto Adige, which borders Austria and Switzerland, Trento is full of that mountainous frosty glee that warms the cockles of your heart.

Every year, visitors are attracted by the artisanal goods, the abundant offering of seasonal gastronomical treats and the cosy atmosphere of a historic centre decked out in twinkling lights.

More and more stalls come to Trento each year, meaning there’s always something new to see, buy and eat every time you go.

The city’s two main squares welcome visitors with their cosy lodges, where you can watch live demonstrations and listen to traditional music. And with the snow-peaked backdrop and fresh air, Trento puts on a Christmas market to remember.

Trento Christmas market runs from November 20th to January 9th.

READ ALSO: Is Italy likely to bring back Covid restrictions this Christmas?

Christmas decorations on display in a market in central Bolzano. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

Bolzano, South Tyrol

Another Christmas market not to be missed in the north of Italy is the spectacular display in Bolzano, arguably one of the most beautiful in Italy.

This festive extravaganza located in the region of South Tyrol is claimed to be Italy’s biggest Christmas market and, after almost two decades of the event, always has something new to delight return visitors.

New for 2021 are some stalls dedicated to grappa and beer with tastings of South Tyrolean spirits and craft beers, while for wine lovers, there’s a dedicated wine lodge offering tastings of the local labels.

Those delicious yuletide aromas of pine, cinnamon and mulled wine fill the streets, while squares are bathed in a romantic glow when the stalls come to town and transform the city into a spellbinding winter wonderland.

What better time to sample a local strudel, feast on some salty speck or indulge in some alpine homemade sweets?

The big Christmas tree in the central Piazza Walther will be lit up on Thursday November 25th to launch the market, which will remain open until January 6th.

Christmas lights during the “Luci d’Artista” (Artist’s Lights of Salerno) (Photo by MARIO LAPORTA / AFP)

Salerno, Campania

The northern mountain cities don’t claim complete ownership of Italy’s best Christmas markets, however.

One of the most eagerly awaited Christmas events can be found in the southern region of Campania: the illuminations called Luci d’artista (Artist’s Lights) in Salerno.

After being cancelled last year, the display is back for 2021 offering visitors a show of real works of art made in lights.

Due to the pandemic measures, access to the city will be restricted, especially on weekends when buses will be limited.

Strolling around the city, you can see this world-famous spectacle as you go, while also taking a tour of the Christmas markets, located on the city’s seafront. All in all, it makes for an unusually marvellous Christmas shopping experience right on the coast.

The lights will run from November 26th until January 30th.

Photo by Lynda Hinton on Unsplash

Verona, Veneto

How much more romantic and magical can you get than a Christmas market in Italy’s city of love? In fact, the market’s organisers describe Verona as, “The city of love, the city of Christmas”.

Even Romeo and Juliet’s tragedy lights up with the seasonal colours, sounds and smells. The city’s streets and squares transform into a dreamy setting for festive shopping and socialising: handicraft products in glass, wood, ceramics and many food and wine specialities tempt and delight.

The entrance to the city will be illuminated by hundreds of lights, creating what they call “a Champs Elysees effect”, continuing through all the streets of the historic centre. All the sparkles and glow are set against a backdrop of the famous Roman Arena and the unmissable Christmas star in front.

There will be more than 100 exhibitors this year and for 2021, the market will run in collaboration with the “Christkindlmarkt” of Nuremberg in Germany, bringing a heartwarming fairy-tale atmosphere to the fair city.

Verona’s Christmas market will run from November 12th to December 26th.

Photo by Christian Della Torre on Unsplash

Como, Lombardy

The lake setting and Christmas atmosphere make this a unique festive market you’ll look back on for years to come – and where better to get excited about the exchanging of Christmas gifts than Italy’s so-called city of toys ‘la città dei balocchi‘?

Starting with the Magic Light festival, its projections and lights transform the city’s building and squares into an open-air gallery. Meanwhile, delightful wooden huts create a Christmas village, offering local specialities, gifts and mouthwatering dishes.

There are also numerous refreshment and tasting points giving visitors the chance to sample menus typical of the area. And the unmissable giant ferris wheel is worth a whirl too.

If you want to work off some of those festive chocolates, waffles and gingerbread hearts, you can get your cheeks rosy at the ice rink in Piazza Cavour.

Plus, you can’t miss (literally) the traditional Christmas fir tree, illuminated by thousands of lights.

Como’s Christmas market runs from November 27th to January 6th.

Where are your favourite Christmas markets in Italy? If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment below.