How to survive an Italian Christmas party

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

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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