It’s the most wonderful time of the year and Rome is a great place to spend your Christmas holiday! During the Christmas period the city looks magical with stunning christmas lights on many of the busiest streets, festive events, Christmas markets and lots of places to hang out with your loved ones to soak up the atmosphere!
Christmas in Rome is traditionally celebrated from December 24-January 6 (Epiphany). However, many events start on December 8, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception and you’ll sometimes see Christmas decorations and markets even earlier than that.
Here’s a list of a few things to do in Rome at Christmas:
See the Pope. Papa Francesco will be giving a Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter’s which begins at 10pm. Even if you don’t have tickets to Midnight Mass, you can still take part in the mass in St. Peter’s square with the large screens showing live coverage of the mass inside the Basilica, not quite the same but still a breath-taking experience, with thousands of people packed into the square. If you miss midnight mass you can still see the pope deliver his Christmas message at noon on Christmas Day from the window of his apartment above the square. If you want to attend Christmas mass you will need to book quite a few months in advance, as demand is high.
Check out the Christmas lights and decorations. Christmas decorations are getting more and more ambitious in Rome and not just in the city centre but in other areas of the city too. You must see the great Christmas trees in the main piazzas: Piazza Venezia, Piazza del Colosseo and Piazza San Pietro. The whole city is decorated, shops, streets, churches! Rome twinkles with an array of magical light displays and decorations to brighten up the Eternal city over the holiday season.
Find out more about the tradition of Italian nativity scenes. Even though Christmas trees are widespread, the traditional Italian Christmas decoration is by far the Nativity scene “Il Presepe”. Throughout the holiday season you will find the Presepe in any family, church and shop. It’s a fascinating ancient tradition. We could say that the Presepe is the quintessence of Italian Christmas. Crafting these ornate works of art by hand remains an artisanal tradition in many parts of the country, especially in Naples. Some of these Presepi are extremely elaborated, they not only represent the nativity scene, saints and biblical characters, but include vibrant representations of an entire village, often in a medieval-renaissance style setting. Complicated lights and water effects are common too. So, if you are in Rome for Christmas, you shouldn’t miss a Presepi tour, they are displayed in many piazzas and churches. One of the most famous is the one in Saint Peter’s square, with life-size terra-cotta figures. You could go on a Presepi tour on Christmas day, when most museums are closed.
Head to a Christmas market. They pop up all over Rome around Christmas time. They sell anything from food, toys to vintage bags and jewelry. Unfortunately the famous Christmas market in Piazza Navona has not been set up yet due to bureaucratic problems. But you will find an antique Mary-go-round in the centre of the piazza. My favourite is the antique market in piazza Augusto Imperatore, which you can find every sunday during the month of december and where you can find some really interesting items, from jewelry to bags, books and knick-knacks for your home.
Go ice-skating. An outdoor ice-skating rink, open daily from 10 a.m. to midnight, from December 5 to January 19, is set up near the impressive Castel Sant’Angelo. Don’t miss the opportunity to skate while admiring the breath-taking view of Sant’ Angelo bridge and the castle. Here you will also find a small Christmas market.
Eat! What to eat at Christmas in Rome. To prepare and purify their bodies for Christmas Day, Italians avoid meat on la Vigilia (Christmas Eve). It’s all fish, pasta and vegetables. If you think we’re talking about a 3-course meal, think again. It’s traditionally way more! 7 courses for the 7 sacraments!
After you’ve refrained from indulging on Christmas Eve ;-), you’re allowed to really tuck in on Christmas Day. Lunch is the main meal. Lunch usually starts with a mix of fried artichokes, zucchini,
cauliflowers and baccalà (battered salted cod). Then other typical dishes are lasagne, tortellini served in a hot homemade broth, lamb with roasted potatoes and then, of course dessert! The most
famous Christmas cake is the Panettone, a tall, fluffy sweet loaf, dotted generously with raisins, lemon zest and candied orange!