Every country has its own unique Christmas traditions, and Italy may not be the first European country you’d associate with winter cosiness. But the country goes all out for the holidays, and does Christmas bigger and, we think, better than anywhere else.
If you’re a fan of all things festive, here’s why Italy is the place to be.
Italy has the world’s biggest Christmas tree
It's that time of year again, when Rome celebrates the season by putting up an inexplicably mangy Christmas tree? pic.twitter.com/j3T9bpffDO
— Jessica Phelan (@JessicaLPhelan) December 2, 2019
But for something that actually is spectacular, go to the town of Gubbio, Umbria, which holds the record for the largest albero di Natale in the world.
The giant ‘tree’ on the slope of Mount Ingino is actually made of hundreds of multicoloured lights, and stands at an enormous 650 meters high. It has held the Guinness World Record for biggest such tree since 1991.
The tree lights are switched on each year on December 7th and can be seen until January 10th.
— sobore (@sobore) December 10, 2018
Italy has the world’s biggest panettone
Italy has more varieties of Christmas cake than anyone can count, although seeking out and trying them all is a worthy goal to have.
Panettone has to be the most famous of them all, and in the spirit of doing everything bigger and better, chocolatiers in Milan managed to make a record-breaking giant panettone that weighs an incredible 332.2 kilograms. Even we’d have trouble getting through all that.
Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP
And Italy has the world’s biggest live nativity scene
It’s no secret that Italy is obsessed with presepi, or nativity scenes. You’ll find these quaint scenes set up everywhere from churches and squares to inside cafes and Italian homes.
They come in all shapes and sizes, some with moving parts, lights and even sound effects. Some modern versions show an entire Christmas village.
Look carefully, and in among the expected biblical characters you'll no doubt also spot a few politicians, footballers and other public figures – popular or otherwise – hanging out by the crib.
A figurine of Donald Trump on San Gregorio Armeno street, Naples. where artists make nativity figures. Photo: Eliano IImperato/AFP
Many towns also put on a “live nativity”, in which scenes from the Christmas story are acted out on the streets.
The most impressive must be the live nativity scene in the ancient cave town of Matera, Basilicata. In the world’s biggest live Christmas nativity, theatrical performances of six different parts of the nativity story take place in atmospheric locations around the town, which is the European Capital of Culture for 2019.
Italy probably also has the biggest Christmas dinners
If you think a whole roast turkey and all the trimmings is a lot of food, Italy has something to show you. There’s a good reason the Christmas meal here is called cenone (big dinner).
Menus vary dramatically depending on region and family, and you could be served anything from lasagne to seafood, though there will undoubtedly be plenty of choice. One friend’s family in Tuscany last year served up roast turkey, roast pork, and roast chicken, for six people – after antipasti and two plates of pasta, of course.
Italy has the world’s favourite Christmas fizz
If you like a glass of bubbly on Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve, chances are you’ll be drinking something Italian-made.
Italian winemakers will be toasting a record year for sparkling wine sales abroad as the world’s prosecco consumption soars, with Italian sparkling wines now more popular than French champagne.
70 percent of Italy’s sparkling wine – that's 500 million bottles – were sent overseas last year, most of it going to the prosecco-loving UK, US and Germany.
Italian employees might get the best Christmas present ever
December is the month when Italians look forward to the tredicesima, or ’thirteenth’ – a whole extra month’s wages on top of your December salary to put towards the cost of Christmas. That vast amount of food costs money, after all.
It was first introduced under Benito Mussolini's fascist regime to reward factory workers, and later extended. Many (though not all) public and private employees are eligible, along with pensioners, and this year the bonus is expected to cost the country around €30 billion for 33 million people with €10 billion of that coming from the state.
As far as Italian employees are concerned, this is definitely a reason to celebrate.
Christmas lights in Rome. Photo: AFP