Christmas Traditions in Italy, France & the UK

Traveling is all about experiencing different cultures and traditions, and if your lucky enough to be spending this festive season in Italy, Paris or London; you’ll be treated to some of the most iconic and quaint local traditions.

Italy

  • Christmas starts on 8th December
    Italians begin their countdown to Christmas with the Immacolata, also known as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. On this day, Italians visit the church to celebrate the conception of Mary, rather than Jesus. Castel Sant’Angelo announces the opening of the religious festivities by firing a cannon as well as parades, bonfires, and fireworks. The Pope holds prayers in Piazza di Spagna, Rome.
  • Presepi or Nativity scenes
    The presepi or nativity is one of the most treasured traditions of an Italian Christmas. The idea of a crib scene began in Italy back in the 13th century when St Francis of Assisi asked a local villager to create a manger to help re-enact the nativity. Since then nativity scenes have become a big part of Italian Christmas, and handmade presepi remain a  tradition.
  • No meat on Christmas Eve
    Preparing and purify your body is an important tradition in Italy. Italians avoid meat on La Vigilia (Christmas Eve). Although the idea is to eat lean, most indulge on multiple courses of fish!
  • Epiphany January 6th
    On Epiphany night, children believe that an old lady called 'Befana' brings them presents. La Befana is believed to be searching for baby Jesus, that’s why she comes bearing gifts for children. Many cities and towns in Italy organize festivities and parades to celebrate Epiphany on January 6.

France

  • Christmas starts on 6th December
    In France, the festive season officially begins on the 6th December on St Nicholas Day. It used to be the custom that on this day gifts would be exchanged, but now the tradition has been postponed to Christmas Eve when Père Noël (Father Christmas) visits the well-behaved children around France.
  • Children’s Tradition
    Small children leave their shoes beside the fireplace so that Père Noël can find them and fill them with small presents or treats. Back in 1962, the French government passed the law that any letter written to Santa Claus must be responded in the form of postcards, this tradition is still strong today.
  • The Réveillon
    The Réveillon is a Christmas meal that French people sit down to enjoy on the 24th December. Some people still believe it is the tradition to serve it after midnight mass, but others decide to have it earlier during the day. Lasting up to six hours, it’s a chance to sit down with your family and tuck into sumptuous food over many decadent courses, washing it down with wine and ending on sweets and cheese. Food is a big part of French Christmas traditions. It depends on the region but some common French Christmas foods like foie gras, goose, capon or turkey stuffed with chestnuts
  • Epiphany
    Christmas celebrations come to an end on 6 January at Epiphany. It celebrates when the three kings first saw baby Jesus. It is celebrated by everyone with a galette des rois (cake of the kings). You will see these in every bakery and supermarket throughout January.

The UK

  • Christmas Dinner
    In the UK, the main Christmas Meal is usually eaten at lunchtime or early afternoon on Christmas Day. It's normally roast turkey, roast vegetables and 'all the trimmings' which means vegetables like carrots & peas, stuffing.
  • Mince pies
    Early mince pies were made of meat, fruit, and spice and inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine brought back by the Crusaders. But now they commonly contain 13 ingredients representing Christ and the Apostles and were formed in a large oval shape to represent the manger. By Victorian times meat had disappeared from the recipe.
  • Pantomime
    Pantomime is a unique English tradition that is hugely popular around Christmas time. It is a family theatre show usually based on a traditional fairy story like Cinderella but with a twist. Each show has a mix of slapstick comedy, songs, and jokes and encourages audience participation.
  • The Christmas Broadcast
    A true British institution is the Christmas broadcast by the reigning monarch since 1932. Originally starting as a radio broadcast by George V, the broadcast evolved as the monarchy did, and 1957 saw Queen Elizabeth II deliver the first broadcast televised live to the nation. Since 1959, the broadcast has been pre-recorded but is still faithfully beamed into homes across the country at 3 p.m.
  • Boxing Day
    Boxing day is a recognized holiday in the UK, celebrated on the 26th of December. This day began as a way for servants and tradesmen to receive gifts from their employers, but nowadays, it is a popular day for shopping, as many retailers hold discount sale events.

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