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Where to catch Italy's most impressive Christmas displays in 2023

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Where to catch Italy's most impressive Christmas displays in 2023
Luminous handmade Christmas sculptures on Lake Maggiore's Leggiuno on December 13, 2022. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP.

From spectacular light shows to life-size nativity scenes, when it comes to imaginative Christmas spectacles, Italy is second to none.


Unofficially running all the way from the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th to Epiphany on January 6th, Christmas is a big deal in Italy.

You can always count on the country pulling out all the stops when it comes to Christmas decorations, with each town putting its own unique spin on seasonal displays.

Whether it's spellbinding light shows, fantastical exhibits, or imaginative presepe nativity scenes, you're sure to find something to delight and surprise you.

Magical light installations

Every year Salerno's Luci d'Artista light installation wows visitors from all over Italy and beyond. This year's display, 'Animalandia', is zoo-themed: expect to find a giraffe, swans, a lion, and a panda bear in the menagerie.

If you're anywhere near the often-overlooked Italian region of Molise, the Magia di Luci displays lighting up the town of Larino are well worth a visit, and this year there's also an ice skating rink and a small Christmas market with food and crafts.

READ ALSO: Italy's Christmas markets: Where and when to visit in 2023

After the success of the inaugural Incanto di Luci lights show last year, Rome's botanical gardens are hosting the (ticketed) Trame di Luce exhibition featuring, among other things, a walk through an eerie smoke-filled forest and an illuminated model of the Earth.

The northern city of Turin has its own Luci d'Artista light display, not to mention the beloved fairytale nativity scene designed by artist Emanuele Luzzati that's been a feature of the holidays since 1997.

And on the shores of Lake Maggiore, the town of Leggiuno hosts an impressive installation with an illuminated castle, swan lake, igloo and Santa's sleigh.

Giant Christmas lights

The illuminated nativity scene in Manarola in the Cinque Terre takes up 4km of hillside and features 300 life-size figures requiring more than 8km of electric cables.


Every year the exhibition is inaugurated with a torchlight procession followed by a fireworks display that attracts travellers from all around Italy.

Meanwhile Gubbio in Umbria boasts the 'largest Christmas tree in the world', with its fir made of lights covering the length of an entire hillside.

The tree, now in its 43rd year, is 650m high and is made up of more than 550 energy efficient LED lights.


Mesmerising light projections

Lake Como's Città dei Balocchi ('Toytown') light projections enchant spectators with moving images cast onto the facades of historic buildings and churches.

The 30th edition of Città dei Balocchi is scheduled to be held once again in the lakeside town of Cernobbio, between Villa Bernasconi and Piazza Risorgimento.

READ ALSO: Ten words you need to know for an Italian Christmas

An ice rink, a Christmas market, an igloo and a holographic nativity scene are some of the features of this year's event.

Not to be outdone, the city of Arezzo in Tuscany has its own light projections that draw crowds, along with a Christmas market with stallholders hailing from Germany, Austria and South Tyrol.

And historic buildings in the city centre of Padua also light up with colourful images from the last week in November to after Epiphany.

A 'giant' nativity scene

The Presepe Gigante di Marchetto ('Giant nativity scene of Marchetto') in Piedmont was founded in 1980, though by 2012 it had started attracting more visitors than could fit and so relocated to neighbouring Mosso, which hosts the exhibit today.


READ ALSO: What to do in Rome over the Christmas holidays

The scene features over 150 life-size statues of villagers in traditional clothing spread all over the village; visitors can follow a trail that ultimately leads to a stable where they'll find the traditional nativity characters.

The exhibit was inspired by the idea of allowing children (and adults) to wander around a life-size diorama and imagine themselves as characters in the set. Admission is free and open from 10am to 10pm from December 2nd until January 7th.

Presepi on (and in) the water

The floating nativity scene in Cesenatico, an Adriatic port town in Emilia Romagna, is best seen after sunset.

That's when the 50 figurines bobbing up and down on the sail boats in the canal are illuminated and come to life.

The same holds true for the underwater nativity scene in Laveno Mombello on Lago Maggiore, which only becomes fully visible when lit up at night.


The lagoon around Burano, the colourful Venetian island known for its lace, also becomes populated around Christmas with nativity figures mounted on stilts hovering just above the water's surface.

And in Comacchio in Emilia Romagna, floating presepi can be spied under the bridges crossing the town's canals.

'Living' presepi

You'll find presepi viventi or 'living nativity scenes' in towns throughout Italy, with local volunteers dressing up and performing the key nativity roles.

Perhaps one of the most impressive of these is the annual presepe vivente in the Piedmont village of Dogliani Castello.

From 8.30pm on the nights of December 23rd and 24th, around 350 villagers dress up in first century garb and play the parts of blacksmiths, carpenters, shepherds and innkeepers.

READ ALSO: Six quirky Italian Christmas traditions you should know about

Street lighting is shut off and replaced with torches, and Mary and Joseph walk through the streets asking for a place to stay, leading a procession.

Another impressive presepe vivente is that of Matera's, the distinctive cave town that has been used as a shooting location for many a film depicting ancient Jerusalem or Bethlehem.

Scale model nativities

If you prefer your nativity sets child-sized, the presepe in Cavallermaggiore, Piedmont might be the one for you.

This set stretches over 300sqm and features a combination of figurines from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, ranging from about 30-50cm in height.


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

It's also mechanised, with the intricately-formed characters performing tasks like spinning wool and washing clothes; visitors can wonder in and around the set to admire the moving figures up close.

And if you're in Naples over the Christmas period, you'll want to make sure you check out Via San Gregorio Armeno, a street specialising in nativity sets as well as figurines of politicians and celebrities. It's open year-round, but particularly comes alive over the winter holidays.




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Anonymous 2022/12/16 12:06
And Padova for light displays! They started doing these during Covid and this year they are amazing! Some on the new Unesco listed city walls ;)

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