CHRISTMAS IN ROME
Christmas in Rome is steeped in cultural tradition and centers around family, friends, and most importantly, food. Feasting is the most important activity during the Italian holiday season. A huge Christmas tree and a full-scale Nativity creche with life-size figures of Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, and angels and shepherds give Saint Peter's Square a festive holiday spirit.
Every year a Christmas crib is set up on the Spanish Steps the setting and costumes of which recall Trastevere and its inhabitants as it was represented by the Roman artist Bartolomeo Pinelli in the nineteenth century. Another nativity scene worth visiting is the one in the Franciscan basilica at the Ara Coeli next to the Campidoglio (city hall).
24 December: Christmas Eve
Every Christmas Eve, the Pope gives Midnight Mass in St Peter's Square. The service takes place in the very heart of Roman Catholicism in what is arguably the world's most famous church. The Christmas Eve speech is broadcast to over 40 countries.
Christmas Eve is usually celebrated with a big meal at home. There may be as many as 10 to 20 fish dishes prepared, but no meat. Traditionally, in Rome, a Capitone, or big female eel, roasted, baked, or fried, is brought to the table. Common are the Christmas sweets: panettone, torrone, and panforte are but a few. All sweets, as a rule, must contain nuts and almonds. In ancient Rome, honey was offered so that the New Year may be sweet.
25 December: Christmas
Urbi er Orbi message and blessing by the Pope in Saint Peter's Square at midday.
26 December: Boxing Day (St. Stephen's Day)
Many Romans visit nativity scenes in churches throughout the city. The tradition of making and decorating cribs at Christmas was brought to Rome from Greccio in Umbria, where Saint Francis of Assisi made the first one in 1223. The oldest Nativity Scene, believed to be that of Arnolfo di Cambio (1280), is housed in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major), in Rome. The Nativity Scene is left standing in every home until the Epiphany, on 6 January, when the Magi bring presents for the Infant.
Piazza Navona Christmas Market
Rome's Piazza Navona hosts a traditional Christmas market, complete with Santa Claus, nativity scenes and stalls selling Christmas goodies, mostly toys and sweets.
Kids can visit Santa Claus and parents can wander around in the happy and expectant holiday atmosphere of the market. In addition to toys, strenne (Christmas branches traditionally exchanged among Romans) and Christmas foods like torrone (nutty nougat) and cotton candy.
The most representative articles on sale are the statuettes of the Nativity scene.
100 Presepi: Exhibition of Nativity Scenes
From end November to 6 january, there is a yearly exhibition of over 200 nativity scenes at the Sala del Bramante (Piazza del Popolo). It is open 9:30am - 8pm daily.The cribs exhibited are made by craftsmen: those on display are cribs in the traditional design. There are also cribs dating back to the period between 1500-1700, the golden age of this particular craft.