Christmas in Italy – Teach the KIDS

Merry Christmas in Italian is Buon Natale!

You don’t have to be headed to Italy for Christmas to have a few magical Christmas daydreams about Buon Natale!  But, if you are thinking of a trip to Italy it is fun to learn about holiday traditions. Incorporating some Italian traditions or portions of them into your own holiday celebrations will have your family learning and thinking about your trip before you even go! 

Christmas in Italy – Decorations and Presepi (nativity scenes)

The Colosseum is a magical sight – no matter the time of year or season, but…Christmas adds extra magic to everything, doesn’t it?

Even the pope decorates for the holidays. There is a nativity scene and tree outside the Vatican every year. Read about visiting Vatican City with the kids and making it educational and fun for the whole group!


See the world’s oldest permanently displayed nativity scene in Rome at Santa Maria Maggiore. It was carved in the 13th century and you can see it in the underground chapel of Christmas. Below the altar is a reliquery that contains part of the original manger.  Read more about this fascinating and unique nativity here. Photo from

Nativity in Rome, Christmas in Italy,

Christmas in Italy – Holiday food

You might be familiar with the sweet bread panetonne. Toasted it makes a wonderful breakfast treat!

Panatonne bread, Christmas in Italy,

The Christmas Eve meal in Italy usually means fish. In southern Italy, seafood is traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve and is related to the Catholic tradition of avoiding meat on the eve of certain holidays. Included in this ‘no meat’ holiday eve is Christmas eve. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an American name for the Christmas eve meal which can include 7-9 fish dishes.  The most famous of these 7 dishes is salted cod fish which is called baccala in Italian.

fresh fish at european market, Christmas in Italy,

Seafood of all sorts makes the Christmas menu in Italy.

Pasta is always on the menu!! We eat spaghetti for Christmas dinner in my family (although we’ve added the traditional smoked turkey as an additional menu item, too) and I use my great-grandmother’s spaghetti sauce. For fun, I usually use holiday shaped pasta, too which the kids love! I love spaghetti at the holiday because it is so easy and everyone loves it! Make the sauce ahead for ease. It even tastes better the next day.

many types of pasta forming a pattern, Christmas in Italy,

Christmas in Italy – Holiday sweets

Biscotti is a familiar Italian cookie. These are very, very hard! If you make them without nuts you can let your teething toddler enjoy! For a great biscotti taste – try Giada’s recipe here.

Biscotti, Christmas in Italy,

Most people are familiar with the ice-cream spumoni, but there are also spumoni cookies! Great recipe here with store bought dough! So easy and pretty.


My mom’s side of the family is from Sicily and this fig cookie originates there: Cucidati.  They can be labor intensive but a real treat. It helps to make the dough ahead of time.  Your family will beg for them every year! Try this cucidati recipe from Proud Italian Cook.

Fig cookies with icing and sprinkles, Christmas in Italy,

Spending time together is always a wonderful way to make memories. Since kids love cookies, baking and most especially tasting…why not use this time to add in some culture from the rest of the world?

child cutting cookies, Christmas in Italy,

Christmas in Italy – Holiday gifts

Italian boys and girls who have been very good during the year get a visit from St. Nicholas and the Christmas witch named La Befana. La Befana is a kindly old woman or witch, depending upon the story, who goes door to door looking for the Christ child so she can give him a present. Along the way, she gives gifts to boys and girls on January 5th each year – Epiphany Eve. She carries a broom to sweep away the old year to make room for the new.  In Venice, she arrives by boat!

La Befana, Christmas in Italy,

Gubbio, Italy is home to the world’s largest Christmas tree. Who knew? (You heard it here first. 😉 Kids love to hear about world records!

The Guinness Book of World’s Records officially recognized the 2,132 foot tree in Gubbio, Italy as the world’s largest in 1991. That record has held since. It uses 25,000 feet of electrical wire and must take cooperation from the whole town of only 33,000. What a great result from team work and cooperation!

Christmas in Italy – Read stories

Reading to children is such a gift. They love snuggling in your lap, all warm and cozy. They love getting your attention. They love listening to stories. What’s not to love about all of those things for you, too?

Enjoy these special Christmas books about Italy!

Merry Christmas, Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola, Christmas in Italy,

Merry Christmas, Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola is wonderfully warm holiday book. Strega Nona is creating the Christmas Eve feast with the hdlep of her assistant Big Anthony and the baker’s daughter, Bambolona. There is pasta, magic and fun! Written for kids aged 4-7 years old, but perfect for all ages. Lexile Measure: 660. Length: 32 pages.

The Legend of Old Befana by Tomie de Paola, Christmas in Italy,

The Legend of Old Befana by Tomie de Paola is another wonderful story from Tomie de Paola! This story is about the Italian witch, La Befana, who seeks the Christ child. During her constant search for baby Jesus, she gives gifts to children who have been good all year!  Written for kids aged 6 -9 but wonderful for kids of all ages. Lexile Measure: 460L. Length: 32 pages.

The Christmas Witch by Ilse Plume, Christmas Italy,

The Christmas Witch by Ilse Plume This story of La Befana, the Christmas witch, includes the story of baby Jesus and really highlights the religious convictions of La Befana. Written for elementary school aged children. Lexile measure: N/A. Length: 27 pages.

Buon Natale; Learning songs & traditionsin Italian by Sophia Rossi, Christmas in Italy,

Buon Natale: Learning Songs & Traditions in Italian (Christmas) by Sophia Rossi Great way to learn a little about customs and get a feel for the lilt and melody of the language. Sing some Christmas songs in Italian with the audio CD. Written for kiddos aged 5 and up but a great way to enjoy a little Italian for any age!! Lexile Measure: N/A. Length 32 pages.

Jingle the Christmas Clown by Tomie de Paola, Christmas in Italy,

Jingle the Christmas Clown by Tomie de Paola Jingle, the clown, and his animal friends put on a circus performance for the town. Sweet and as wonderful as you would expect from Tomie de Paola. Excellent choice for a Christmas read with Italy in mind! Written for elementary school aged kiddos. Lexile Measure: N/A.

Don’t forget to read about your destination before you go! That helps prepare the kids for what they will see which will help them be more engaged and remember more about the trip. Click here for the entire reading list for Italy.

The Educational Tourist and kids inside the colosseum in Rome,

Buon Natale – Merry Christmas!

Natalie, The Educational Tourist








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12 Responses

  1. First of all, so nice of you to include stories/books in your Christmas-y list. Also glad that there’s so much about food and have to admit that I was surprised to see seafood in a Christmas menu. Traveling around the world during different occasions and celebrations is always special and a learning experience about culture and traditions. Thanks

  2. melbtravel says:

    Learning about holiday traditions in other countries is always a great idea, especially when education children. I mean what a great way to learn. I love that you share christmas books with your children to at night too. I have been to Italy a few times but I never knew that Vatican was decorated, so very cool.

  3. Devesh Joshi says:

    That was quite an informative article I must say. Travelling to new places around festival time helps you learn about new cultures and beliefs. I can clearly see how your journey helped you learn much about Italy. Great post indeed!

    • NatalieTanner says:

      Thanks! We love observing holidays in our travels because it gives you such a peak into the culture. We traveled to Istanbul during Ramadan and it was wonderful! Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Sarah says:

    That’s quite an interesting read! I’d love to take my parents to Italy, especially to the Vatican, hopefully by next year – maybe during the holidays, too! I have been putting off a trip there because I want to explore it with them!

  5. Rome in Christmastime looks magical! I was just there in late October and I wish I could have seen the Christmas tree all lit up. And all those Italian snacks and cookies look so delicious…. mmmm! Great book suggestions btw, I used to be a teacher and I loved the “Befana” book!

  6. Christmas celebration in Italy kinda look same to the way the Spanish celebrates with the gigantic Christmas tree standing right at the city square, lovely indeed. As a real meat eater, I wouldn’t expect having fish throughout Christmas Eve, nice tips to know to get prepared ahead. Thanks.

  7. I’m Italian and this reminds me of my own family Christmas suppers. There’s always so much food and then at midnight the fruit and deserts (including my favorite tiramisu) come out and we start eating all over again! I’ve never been to Italy during the Holidays but I’m sure it must be quite magical.

  8. Kathy - Walkabout Wanderer says:

    I love Italy but I haven’t been around Christmas time. Rome is spectacular but with the additional of the Christmas tree your photos are even more beautiful. Also Italian food. .. . . yummy!

  9. Abigail says:

    Italy has always been on my travel bucket list. A Christmas experience in Italy would be magical!

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