Christmas in Italy is above all a religious and not a commercial holiday. Here are some traditions celebrating an Italian Christmas.
- Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve is an Italian-American tradition, started here. Originally, the night before Christmas called la vigilia was a fast day and no meat could be eaten. Today that is no longer the case but the fast was observed by immigrants who carried on that tradition to today.
- The Presepio or crèche is said to have been started by St. Francis of Assisi at mass on Christmas Eve. Today these crèche scenes not only depict the Holy Family but complete everyday life scenes. The best still come from Naples where they are hand made on the famous San Gregorio Armeno street.
- Panettone, pandoro and panforte are the traditional breads/cakes of Christmas. Panettone was originally sliced by the head of the household to ensure good luck.
- Bagpipers called Zampognari in colorful sheepskin vests and white stockings travel from place to place in Italy playing traditional music.
- On January 6, Feast of Epiphany, the Befana, a kind old witch delights boys and girls with surprise treats as she searches for the boy king. According to legend, the Three Wise Men invited her to come with them to Behtlehem but she was too busy and to this day has regretted that decision so she continues her search. Befana cake is made for this day with a lucky coin baked in the cake. Whoever gets that slice is king or queen for the day.