Christmas For Members

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

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
The words and phrases you'll need to survive a Christmas in Italy

Spending your first Christmas with Italian friends or relatives? These useful words and phrases will help you make a good impression and enjoy the holiday season.


You probably know that babbo natale is Father Christmas and that Italians are very partial to a presepe, or homemade Christmas nativity scene. But when you're spending Christmas in Italy for the first time, you'll need a few more practical phrases. Here are a few that might help.

READ ALSO: How to celebrate Christmas like an Italian

You might also know that one alternative to saying Buon Natale is Buone Feste, and that you can say them both together if you like.

- Buon Natale e Buone Feste!

- Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!


Meanwhile Auguri di buon Natale! Is a heartier way of wishing someone a merry Christmas.

A lot of people will just use a simple auguri, which roughly translates as “congratulations” or “best wishes”, when they meet friends and neighbours in the street on Christmas day.

Another common and informal Christmas greeting is tante cose, which translates as “lots of things”. Which things? All the good things, of course. The phrase has come to mean something like “all the best”.

A Christmas tree in Verona. Photo: Depositphotos


With family being paramount to Italians, it's very common to pass on your season's greetings to people's relatives, too.

- Dare i nostri saluti ai tuoi

- Greetings to your family (used for parents in particular)

And if you have a good relationship with your Italian in-laws or other relatives, you might want to tell them how you feel. But as reader Nicole Richey tells us, you'll need to be careful; she accidentally used the wrong phrase on her mother in law.

She learned that ti amo (I love you) is only used in a romantic context, and to anyone else you'd say ti voglio bene.

If you give someone a present, especially an older Italian family member, they're likely to exclaim:

- Dovresti risparmiare i tuoi soldi!

- You should save your money!

(But of course they will secretly appreciate the thought.)

If you're watching Christmas movies, be aware that some classics have very different names in Italian; Home Alone, for example, is known as Mamma ho Perso l'Aereo, or “Mamma, I Missed the Plane.”

Photo: Depositphotos

If you'd like to help out the inevitably overworked and frazzled chef, reader Mary Hassan Ali Rizzo suggests a more polite alternative to Hai bisogno d'aiuto? (“Do you need help?”) Instead use Posso aiutarti? (Can I help you?)

They will probably say non è necessario (There's no need) then you will say, ma a me fa piacere! (But it's a pleasure!)

“This puts you in the position of asking a favour of them, rather than them seeming incompetent and in need of help, and it's good for bonding,” she says.

If you're visiting someone's house, you might be told non fare complimenti, which means that you should feel free to do what you like (eat more food, stay a little longer...) a little like “make yourself at home.”

READ ALSO: The food and drink you need for an Italian Christmas feast

Durng the huge Christmas meal, which isn't known as il cenone (the big dinner) for nothing, you'll probably need a polite way of turning down some of the endless helpings of food. A flat refusal might not work, so we recommend:

- solo un assaggino

- just a little taste

And after eating, you'll ingratiate yourself even further with your hosts by telling them:

- Tutto molto buono

- Everything is very good

Or you could even try telling them it was buono da leccarsi i baffi, which roughly translates as “Good enough to lick your chops!”

Siclian Buccellati, a festive treat made with dried figs and nuts. Photo: Depositphotos


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