There are few more enchanting places to spend Christmas than in Rome Italy. The Eternal City comes to life in a most magical way – still celebrating the holiday devoid of the massive commercialism of many other countries. Food, family and religion are at the heart of Roman celebrations.
1. It is too late to get seats inside St. Peter’s Basilica as the Pope officiates at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, but you can join the faithful outside in the square. Worshippers congregate well ahead of midnight to watch the Pope on the big screen in St. Peter’s Square. There’s also a life-size nativity scene on display.
2. If you’re looking for an alternative to Midnight Mass at the Vatican, how about attending mass at one of Rome’s other notable landmarks – the Pantheon. No tickets are necessary but plan to arrive before 10 p.m. to secure seats. You’ll be treated to beautiful Gregorian chants during the service.
3. Rome’s main Christmas market takes place in Piazza Navona between late November and the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6. You will find numerous stands – covered in twinkling Christmas lights – selling candy, other sweet treats and small toys. Don’t be surprised to catch a glimpse of Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) or the zampognari, shepherds from the Abruzzo region, who dress in native costumes and play Christmas tunes on their bagpipes.
4. Romans and Italians alike are crazy about Nativity scenes or presepi as they are called in Italian. For over 30 years, 100 or more presepi have been on display each Christmas season in the Sale del Bramante in Piazza del Popolo. Some of the crèches date back to the 17th century and show the incredible craftsmanship of Neapolitan artists who carefully hand make the figures.
5. If you haven’t gotten your fill those hundred, you can always pay a visit to Rome’s museum devoted to nativity scenes — probably one of the city’s least known museums but worth a visit nonetheless. Museo del Presepio, is run by the Italian Association of Friends of the Nativity, which was founded in Rome in 1953, with the mission of keeping alive the tradition of the crib. The museum contains over 3,000 figures from all the regions of Italy as well as from many other nations. Check the Web site for special holiday opening times.
Buon Natale (Merry Christmas) to all those spending Christmas in Rome or just dreaming of a Roman Christmas!