Busy busy busy! That's the only way to describe December's calendar in Italy which is bursting at the seams with events and festivities. John Bensalhia is your trusty guide...
Lots to get through this month. There's events, traditional tributes and festive celebrations ahoy in December throughout Italy – so put those party hats on and see out the last month of the year in style!
Certosa di San Giacomo - Villa Lysis - Capri 11th September - 11th December 2016
There's still time to catch the Capri Orient Express exhibition at the San Giacomo Charterhouse. The art exhibition runs until 11th December, and concentrates on three key Italian contemporary artists - Marco Bagnoli, Domenico Bianchi, and Remo Salvadori.
The three artists displayed a unique talent and a trend for exploring old and new in their works. There was a flavour of eastern and Mediterranean cultures in their art, and resulted in considerable popularity and acclaim. Their works would be included in both personal and public collections in Italy, with displays in locations such as MADRE Museum in Naples, and the MAXXI in Rome.
Montefollonico, Tuscany, 3rd - 11th December 2016
Montefollonico is a region of Tuscany that's especially well known for its amazing wine. It's sometimes referred to as the Holy Wine of the area, but it's commonly known as Vinsanto.
This lovely desert wine is a delight and an annual festival is held to celebrate its many virtues. It's now in the 13th edition this year and will run from 3rd to 11th December. In addition to celebrating Vinsanto, the festival will also promote the food products commonly eaten with the wine such as Cantucci, almond biscuits.
Visitors will be able to enjoy both wine and food tastings, and also a competition to find the best Holy Wine of the festival. It's a wonderful little area to visit, a medieval village steeped in wonder and history.
Bologna, 3rd - 11th December 2016
If you're a motoring buff, then why not drive on over to Bologna's Motor Show this December?
Held at the Convention Centre, the show looks at all aspects of the current motoring trends, including the most “exclusive cars of the automotive tradition” both in Italy and abroad. For example, there will be a special exhibition that tells the story of the automotive tradition both in Italy and across the globe. There is also a special Tech and Innovation Experience that includes high quality components such as systems and connectivity services that are environmentally friendly.
Factor in speed races, freestyle motocross and also a series of events downtown (the latter goes under the banner of Motor Show OFF), and this fourth Motor Show promises to be another high-octane success!
28th December 2016 - 1st January 2017
When the presents have been unwrapped and the Christmas dinner has been scoffed, it's hard not to wonder what to do over the rest of the festive period.
Well, if you're a jazz music fan, then an extra present comes in the form of the seasonal Umbria Jazz event which runs for a few days at the tail end of December and into New Year's Day.
All kinds of jazz acts are lining up this year to perform in Umbria. The finest sounds can be expected from the likes of the Chihiro Yamanaka UK Trio, the Mario Donatone Quartet, the Swing Valley Band and Vincent Van Hessen.
Timeless jazz music warms up the ears and the heart, and there's no better way to see out the year like the Umbria Jazz Festival.
Saint Barbara Day
Paternò, Sicily, c. 4th December 2016
Every 4th December, Paternò marks its patron saint. Since the 16th century, the early part of December has been a time to mark Saint Barbara. When the area was caught in the vice of a terrible epidemic, a Benedictine nun looked to Saint Barbara to somehow free Paternò from this terrible fate. Miraculously, the epidemic was no more, and since then, Paternò has come together to give thanks to the patron saint that saved its people.
The day itself melds religious thanksgiving and a lighter, celebratory tone – accomplished with the likes of a special parade, sports, and in keeping with the Christian saint being the patron saint of firework makers (as well as artillerymen and firemen), the day is capped off with an unforgettable fireworks display.
Festa di San Nicola
c. 6th December 2016
His bearded face looks out from countless Christmas cards. He's sung about in many a festive song. This is the man who spends Christmas Eve transporting presents to so many kids, that his sledge must be a TARDIS.
Santa Claus is an unforgettable icon at this time of year, but who was he? It's argued in some quarters that he was inspired by the Christian saint and Greek bishop, Saint Nicholas. Ahead of Christmas Day, Italy celebrates Saint Nicholas in style. Whether it's with traditional foods in Abruzzo (like bread or Taralli biscuits) or a water procession on Venice's Murano Island, Italy pays a fitting tribute to San Nicola. Basilica Pontifica San Nicola, Bari, is also holding a day of religious services devoted to the Saint, with a great fireworks display rounding off 6th December in the area.
Saint Ambrogio Day
Milan, c. 7th December 2016
December is a month packed with tribute events, and one of the most memorable is the homage to Saint Aurelius Ambrosius, the patron saint of Milan.
Saint Ambrogio Day is marked in Milan in a number of ways. One of the most celebrated of these is the Oh Bej! Oh Bej! street market which is held in the streets around Piazza Sant' Ambrogio. Here, you can buy a number of unique goodies such as antiques, crafts and foods. All kinds of food and drink are available on the day – whether your taste is for cheese, meat, or sweets, you'll find what you want. And given the time of year, it's only fair that mulled wine is on the menu too.
Music, religion and festivities all combine to make this a very special day for the people of Milan and also a fitting tribute to this kind and generous saint.
Feast Day Of The Immaculate Conception
8th December 2016
The national holiday is about to dawn in Italy, as it has done since 1854 when Pius IX declared the 8th December as an official Feast Day.
While it's a Bank Holiday with banks and offices shut, a good number of stores will stay open for shopping. Elsewhere, the country will be marking this day with a wealth of activities as well as special religious masses. The Pope will lead the ceremony, for example, at the Spanish Steps in Rome.
It's a day that is marked with flames, which can be a sign of banishing sins to fire or a symbol of keeping Jesus' clothes or the Madonna warm. Abruzzo, for example, lights bonfires. The Fires of the Arrival are lit in Umbria, while the people of Atri carry faugini (torches) as they walk to the local cathedral.
Santa Lucia Day
Syracuse and other regions, c. 13th December 2016
The Patron Saint of Syracuse is honoured in her home city every December. The most memorable celebration is the large-scale parade that carries a statue on a golden coffin to the Church of Santa Lucia. With such a heavy load, the might of around 60 men is needed to take it there – before the statue is returned to the crypt a week later on 20th December. It's an event that welcomes thousands of pilgrims, and as it draws to its conclusion, fireworks are let off over the local harbour to round off the day in style.
And kids – don't forget to leave a cup of coffee out for the Saint (along with a carrot for her donkey and some wine for her escort, Castaldo)! If you do, then there's a good chance you'll wake up to a present or two!
CHRISTMAS MARKETS AND EVENTS
Naples Christmas Market
Let's look at some notable Christmas markets in Italy. The country prides itself on conjuring up some genuine festive magic with these brilliant markets.
Naples is a region known for its sumptuous market, which includes its own take on the nativity scene – a tradition that's said to date back as far as the 11th century. Statuettes connected with the Nativity scene are on display here, made by talented artisans. While the traditional kind of figurines are available (Baby Jesus, Virgin Mary, Joseph, Wise Men), there are also figurines marking Neapolitan traditions (such as the wine maker or the fisherman). Even politicians and international celebrities can make the grade!
Rome Christmas Markets
Not one but two Christmas markets can be found in the heart of Rome. One of these is housed among the fountains of Piazza Navona and is a lavish, celebratory affair. Babbo Natale is guest of honour, and will happily pose for a photo or selfie. As December progresses, there is also a massive nativity scene built in the Piazza, and is well worth a look. As for the market itself, it offers the likes if sweets, presents and festive puppets, which make for great gifts for the young ones.
It's also worth checking out another fabulous Christmas market at Piazza dei Re di Roma, which takes inspiration from the markets found in countries such as Austria. It's crammed to the brim with excellent gifts and tasty festive food – perfect Winter warmers!
Another fine example of the Italian Christmas market can be traced to the Trentino-Alto Adige area. The Trento market is a superb creation, packing in over 60 huts (all of the traditional wooden kind) and a big-scale Nativity scene.
There are many present opportunities to be had at the Trento market, so if you're stuck for ideas, pop on over and choose from the many crafts and gifts – and while doing so, you can get further into the festive spirit by choosing some decorations for the home and some food for the tummy.
And let's not forget...
Saint Peter's Basilica and Saint Peter's Square, Vatican City, 24th December 2016
If you're seeking the ultimate Midnight Mass, then you won't go wrong with the Vatican City one which can be seen in the main Saint Peter's Square, where the service is witnessed on a massive screen. It's an event that attracts many people, but you can also catch the service on TV.
Next day, the Pope also delivers his annual Christmas message from his apartment to the Square below.
Switching on of the Christmas Lights
Monte Ingino, Umbria, 7th December 2016
Way back in the early 1990s, the Christmas Tree which is close to the top of Monte Ingino was logged as the tallest of its kind in the world. Standing at a whopping 650m tall and holding over 700 lights, this is a king-sized tree and no mistake.
It's no wonder that the annual Christmas light switch on is an unmissable experience. The lights are switched on every year on 7th December (to mark the day before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception), and its decorative illuminations and star are suitably festive reminders of the season.
NEW YEAR'S EVE
One of the quirkiest places to go to celebrate New Year's Eve is Bologna. An example of this is the Fat Ox Fair (Fiera del Bue Grasso), which is ultimately a prize for a lucky lottery winner. It's specially decorated in advance, and is then taken in procession through to Piazza San Petronio.
There's also quirky goings-on at Piazza Maggiore, where following live music and performances, an effigy of an old man is thrown onto a bonfire when midnight kicks in. Literally out with the old and in with the new.
Clubbing's a good choice of New Year celebration for all you young whiffersnappers reading this article. Where better to be than Florence which has the cream of the clubs?
There are many clubs to select from, whether it's the spacey ambience of Space Electronic, the style of Yab or the good-time feel of the Hard Rock Cafe. Also watch out for Tenax which holds one of the most acclaimed New Year's Eve parties.
This is the one if you're mad keen on firework displays. If you're looking to see the back of 2016 with a fiery goodbye, then Naples is your destination. The fireworks display is mighty fine and provides a colourful and fun way to say goodbye to the year, while waving in the new one.
Music can be enjoyed in the heart of Piazza di Plebiscito, where all kinds of genres can be enjoyed – whether you like your rock or whether you prefer the sounds of the classics, then there should be something here for all tastes. If you're walking home – just be aware that in some parts of Naples, it can be customary to throw old things out of windows. So either dodge or duck!
Rome is where the action is on New Year's Eve. Many areas see in the New Year with music – from the live jamboree in the Circus Maximus to the live show and fireworks at the Colosseum on Via dei Fori Imperiali.
A well-known choice for revellers is Piazza del Popolo where there's a mix of rock, pop and classical music. It packs the crowds in, so get there early if you want to be at the heart of the action.
Pucker up if you're in Venice, for a common tradition in the city is a group kiss to see in the New Year. It's happening in Mestre's Piazza Ferretto and also in St Mark's Square, where there will also be fireworks, music and a toast.
If you love your food, then it's well worth booking a table at one of the Venetian restaurants in advance. Maybe it's not the day to enjoy a crafty sandwich for lunch as many restaurants pull all the stops out with a myriad of courses and wines.
For those looking for a unique Christmas gift, we invite you to check out our shop with Italy-themed gifts, many of which are made by local artisans all over the country!