Get in the festive spirit with John Bensalhia, who looks at this month's Christmassy-influenced events (and others, of course!)

It's inevitable that December's collection of events and festivals will contain many a Christmas market. I've found some of the best, as well as other festive favourites such as the circus. There are also environmentally-aware events connected to both Christmas and food, plus a trip back in time to the days of the 'Dolce Vita'.

Merano Christmas Market

24th November 2017 - 6th January 2018

This is the month of the Christmas market, and to kick things off, here's the acclaimed offering from Merano, which boasts a slew of events and activities for all the family to enjoy.

It's a market that caters well for youngsters, with plenty for kids to do, including pony rides, ice skating and workshops. And if the children are lucky, and behave themselves well, then they will be rewarded with gifts in the parade held in honour of Merano's Patron Saint, St Nicholas.

A great advantage of the Merano Christmas Market is that it's proactive for both kids and adults. While there are performances and market stalls to sample, adults can also attend workshops, which are held on activities such as Christmas wreath making or felt sewing.

Bolzano Christmas Market

24th November 2017 - 6th January 2018

Here's another one: The Bolzano Christmas Market in South Tyrol is another keenly awaited festive event, and by the time you're reading this, will have already started, lasting until 6th January.
It's a magical experience for everyone, as you can see, hear, smell and taste the joys of Christmas. The specially prepared food is a particular hit, with apple Strudel, Zelten nut and fruit cake, home-made biscuits and hot chocolate tempting taste-buds.

The traditional music provides a Christmassy soundtrack for visitors, who can look at some potential gift ideas at the stalls. Or you may prefer to keep the items on sale (such as hand-made arts, crafts and wooden sculptures) for yourself!

The market is open all season, apart from Christmas Day.

Marché Vert Noël

Aosta, 25th November 2017 - 7th January 2018.

Continuing the Christmas market theme, let's pop over to Aosta, where Marché Vert Noël is in full swing.

The setting for this acclaimed Christmas celebration is Aosta's Roman Theatre archaeological area. If you haven't bought those all-important Christmas presents yet, then this is a good source for gift ideas. Again, it's a market that provides the personal touch, as specially created arts and crafts are available, as well as unique Christmas decorations, candles and accessories. 

Food and wine from Aosta Valley is also available at the market, which is open for all of the season, including Christmas Day.

Toys’ City – Como

Como, 25th November 2017 - 7th January 2018

The magical City of Toys is the place to be, as kids and their families hurry along to Città dei Balocchi, now in its 24th edition.

This year's theme is 'Stars', and this festival has a starring role for Como at this time of year, as the City of Toys hosts a wealth of Christmassy events, shows, workshops and much more for all the family.

Grown-ups can ponder on some gift ideas at the Christmas market, and can munch on some top quality traditional festive food. Kids can go ice skating and can also visit Santa's special post office to send their cards and presents. A highlight of Toys' City is the Como Magic Light Festival, which sees a host of Christmas images lighting up the facades of Como’s buildings.

Be sure to visit on Christmas Eve, when Santa makes a personal appearance, and also on 6th January, when the mythical old lady Befana will be there to also hand out gifts to kids on Epiphany Eve.

Arrivano i Paparazzi! (Paparazzi Are Coming!)

Turin, Throughout December 2017 - 7th January 2018

It's your last chance to glance at a snapshot of paparazzi photography at the Italian Centre for Photography (CAMERA) in Turin.

This exhibition takes you on a journey from Italy in the 1950s through the years as we see life through a paparazzi photographer's camera. In particular, the exhibition concentrates on 1950s Rome, when photographers such as Marcello Geppetti and Tazio Secchiaroli produced a series of memorable images of movie stars who came to be at the Cinecittà Studios. The era of 'Dolce Vita' is captured in a string of images, depicting movie stars and other VIPs of the age.

Images of celebrities over the years include Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Jackie Kennedy-Onassis, David Bowie and Silvio Berlusconi can be seen at the exhibition, which also features works from the likes of Ellen von Unwerth, Alison Jackson and Armin Linke.

Video clips and movies add to the Dolce Vita ambience of the exhibition. If you're looking for a breather from the Christmas rush, and want to go back in time to the 1950s, this may be the exhibition for you. It's open until January 2018.

Winter Duke Festival

Urbino, 8th - 9th December 2017

Urbino's very own festive festival can be enjoyed on 8th and 9th December in its town centre.

There are many things to see, do and experience at the 6th edition of the Winter Duke Festival. Music performances, parades and historical re-enactments are part and Christmas parcel of this event, and the town centre's various locations host a number of special activities and stalls.

For example, if you have a relative who likes antique-style presents, then  Palazzo Nuovo hosts a good selection of antique exhibitions and vendors. These include stalls for antique and antique furniture, jewellery, and hand-made nativity scenes. Younger visitors will enjoy the fun and games in Collegio Raffaello's courtyard (including tournaments and workshops); and there's a special Renaissance market at Piazza della Repubblica.

One of the lynchpins of this festive experience is the Renaissance Nativity Scene, which has been created in the basement of Palazzo Ducale, depicting Perugino's Adoration Of The Magi. Be sure to go and see this, and get a strong flavour of the festive season.

Cibo Sano Healthy Food Fair

Sanremo, December 8th - 10th 2017

Turkey. Stuffing. Mince pies. Christmas cake. Plates and pots and pans of seemingly never-ending food this season.

But while there's nothing wrong with a bit of over-indulging on tasty food, it's still as well as to keep your mind on eating healthily. That's where events such as the Cibo Sano Healthy Food Fair come in.

The Cibo Sano Healthy Food Fair aims to promote the best in top quality food, and also showcases traditional and local foods, bringing together consumers and the producers of healthy foods. It takes place in Sanremo over the long weekend of Friday 8th to Sunday 10th December, and includes a wide variety of tastings, debates and food showcases. Food industry professionals and experts will be on hand to talk about what makes a good, healthy meal.

There is also a special portion of the fair devoted to organic food and drink, with special meats, vegetables, fruits, pastas, oils, honeys and baked goods (plus wines) included.

Green Christmas Market – Milan

Milan, 16th - 17th December 2017

Having already covered healthy food, this entry looks at the bigger picture when it comes to healthy living.

While celebrating the spirit of Christmas, this festive eco-market at Fonderia Napoleonica Eugenia returns to promote a natural lifestyle for everyone.

A strong line-up of ecologically-sound gift ideas can be found here, with eco-fashion clothes, ecologically designed objects and organic make-up products included. As well as these, there are home furnishings, natural cosmetics, kids' gifts and decorations.

All of the products included at this market are made from organic sources and recycled materials, and meet environmental requirements. The clothes and accessories have been selected for both their style and quality as well as their sustainability.

Circumnavigando Festival – Genoa

Genoa, 26th December 2017- 7th January2018.

A problem with Christmas is what to do when it's all over. Back to work for adults, but what about the kids? Another year to go until the excitement of seeing what Santa's got!

Luckily, the 17th edition of Circumnavigando can help if you're in the Genoa region. Circumnavigando is the International Circus and Street Theatre Festival, and is acclaimed by families, kids, and also circus fans and professionals worldwide.

The circus atmosphere adds to the festive feel of the season, and makes for a great family day out. Many regions of Genoa are alive and bustling with the fun of the circus, with performances being held from outdoor locations such as The Old Port or Luzzati Gardens, in theatres (including Teatro dell’Archivolto, Teatro della Tosse, and Teatro Gilberto Govi) and in historical locations such as Palazzo Ducale and Palazzo Tursi.