Although in other countries, you might begin to hear Christmas carols at the end of November, in Italy, holiday celebrations begin on 8 December with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary or L'Immacolata Concezione della Beata Vergine Maria.
The feast's origins may stretch back thousands of years, but the day was set in the Catholic calendar by 1476 by Pope Sixtus IV. The doctrine behind it wasn't officially adopted until 8 December, 1854, when in the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX pronounced that the Blessed Virgin Mary "in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin."
That is, according to Catholic doctrine, the Virgin Mary was born free of the original sin that has afflicted humankind ever since the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden.
The day is marked with beautiful, elaborate, and emotionally charged processions throughout Italy. Moreover, as 8 December is a public holiday with most people off from work, it is also the day when many Italians put up Christmas trees and other holiday decorations.
The following are some Immaculate Conception celebrations from around Italy, including ones in Ciminna (Sicily), Trebisacce (Calabria), Zavattarello (Lombardy), Torre del Greco (Campania), Taranto (Puglia), and Zerfaliu (Sardinia):
Now I'm off to dig out my Christmas decorations so I'm ready for 8 December!