How to Communicate in Italian During the Holidays

| Mon, 12/20/2021 - 11:52

The year is coming to its end which means that Christmas is on its way and what is better than the holiday season in Italy? In this article, you’re going to learn the necessary vocabulary to make your Natale (Christmas) and Capodanno (New Year) in Italy an unforgettable experience, not only in terms of enjoying the Italian holiday cuisine but also in terms of your Italian language skills. All in order to celebrate like a true local!

The Christmas fever in Italy starts soon after All Saints Day, so you can already see a lot of vitrine natalizie (Christmas shop windows) and luci di Natale (Christmas lights) around the city. Mercatini di Natale (Christmas markets) is another must-have experience in any small or big Italian town. There you can enjoy your traditional vin brulé (mulled wine) while strolling around looking for typical Christmas goodies, souvenirs, and hand-made addobbi (decorations) for your Christmas tree

Some Italian cities set up Il calendario dell’avvento (The advent calendar) on one of the main piazzas to open one of its windows each night leading up to La vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve). Many Italians have adopted the North-European custom of giving such advent calendars to their kids or friends, as a sweet gift including cioccolatini (chocolate candies), caramelle (hard candies), and other delicacies.

Addobbare l’albero di Natale seems to be the first task to be done when it comes to winter holiday preparations, but in Italy, the custom dictates to do it on the 8th of December, on the day of L’Immacolata concezione (The Immaculate conception). Let’s see what kind of addobbi natalizi (Christmas ornaments) you can opt for:

  • le palline di Natale – Christmas bulbs
  • la ghirlanda – wreath
  • il puntale – topper
  • le luci – lights 
  • le figurine – figures / toys
  • le campanelle – small bells
  • il nastro – ribbon

And, of course, the essential part of every Christmas tree is i regali (Christmas gifts) you place under it (mettere i regali sotto l’albero). Many Italian families will also follow the catholic tradition of setting up il presepe or il presepio (The Nativity scene) at their homes, decorating them also with such plants as La stella di Natale (Poinsettia/Christmas star), which makes any room a little more natalizio at once. Another plant Christmas is associated with is Il vischio (mistletoe), which requires un bacio (a kiss) sotto il vischio, if you stand under it with someone else. 

christmas nativity

But let’s talk about the essential part of the Christmas holidays: food. Il cenone della Vigilia (Christmas Eve dinner) initiates a three-day marathon of lunches, dinners, and breakfasts among all your relatives. In Italy, it’s said “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi” which basically means that you can celebrate Easter with whoever you want, but Christmas should be dedicated exclusively to the family. Il cenone on the 24th of December is actually not a binding rule for all Italians.

It is a must in most regions of Central and Southern Italy, but nowadays many Italians of Northern Italy adopted this tradition. Every family will opt for their own recipes, though the protagonists of winter holidays in Italy are most certainly il panettone and il pandoro. Both of them are Christmas sweet cakes, but il panettone (traditionally from Milan) is studded with i frutti canditi (candied fruits) and l’uva sultanina or uva passa (raisings), while il pandoro (a speciality from Verona) has only a sprinkle of sugar powder on top of it or butter and cream topping. Another famous Italian Christmas sweet is il torrone – a nougat confection made of honey, beaten egg whites, almonds, hazelnut and other ingredients. 


Christmas night, la Notte di Natale, or Il pranzo di Natale (Christmas lunch) is the right moment to aprire i regali (to open the gifts). At this moment “Il Babbo Natale” (Santa Claus) or “Gesù Bambino” (Baby Jesus) will usually arrive to wish Merry Christmas to the children. 

How would you do that in Italian? A simple “Buon Natale!” will do! If you want to wish happy holidays to someone in advance, you can just say “Buone feste!”. 

Most Italian families use to play the Bingo game (la tombola) on Christmas at least once. “Giocare a tombola” may be a trivial option to pass time among family members but nonetheless many Italians do it religiously each year! If you’re lucky enough to have snow on streets on Christmas night, you may prefer such outdoor activities as fare un pupazzo di neve (to make a snow man), or to arrange a snowball fight – fare la battaglia a palle di neve. Whatever activity you chose, the important part is divertirsi (to have fun).

Il giorno di Santo Stefano (Saint Stephen’s day) is celebrated right after Christmas on the 26th of December. As it’s clear from the name, the holiday is dedicated to the first martyr of Christianity, which is particularly important to the Catholics. Curiously enough this day became a state holiday in Italy only in 1946. For Italians this holiday is an occasion to relax a little bit more, finish the Christmas table leftovers and andare al cinema (to go to the cinema).

In contrast to Christmas, la notte di Capodanno is usually celebrated in a big company of friends, and represents the official chance to fare casino, allowing yourself being louder than usual. Il cenone di Capodanno can be arranged at a restaurant or at home, a lot of Italians also prefer to rent a mountain hut to pass the first night of the year surrounded by snow. The essential part of each New Year night is to pop a bottle (stappare una bottiglia) of champagne or spumante and set off fireworks – fare i fuochi d’artificio. Once the clock strikes Midnight, it’s time to abbracciare (to hug) and baciare (to kiss) your friends and family wishing them a Happy New Year – Buon Anno!

No matter where and how you’re going to pass your holidays, hopefully, you will be able to find time for practicing your Italian! Stay with us to find out more about Italian traditions, culture, and, of course, the language!

Buone Feste a tutti!


This language article is curated by the expert instructors from L'Italiano Porticando Italian language and culture school located in the heart of historic Turin. Accredited by the ASILS (Association of Schools Teaching Italian as a Second Language), L'Italiano Porticando offers individual and group lessons, themed courses, and cultural classes on everything from Italian cinema to Turin’s famed chocolate.