Christmas Holiday in Rome
It may not be as popular as the high summer months. But there are a lot of reasons why to choose Christmas Holiday in Rome.
Christmas is a fantastic time to visit Rome. The city has always been among the top travel destinations, regardless of the season. With its incredible monuments and magical atmosphere, the Capital of Italy will be always ready to charm you. But, we must admit that it looks especially alluring at Christmas time.
Travelers to Rome during this time will be rewarded with lower hotel rates, near-empty museums, and the chance to observe Rome as the Romans do. The last of the year instead is popular for a trip in Rome so that hotel rates could be exceptional high.
Most people take the period from Christmas to the New Year off work, so the streets and restaurants come alive with locals enjoying the company of friends and family or shopping for last minute presents. It’s perhaps the only time Romans really live their city center. Then there are the celebrations, the lightenings in the streets, nativity scenes, concerts and choir performances and the holy mass.
In the streets and squares you will discover a lot of Christmas Trees. The tradition is not old in here, it’s starts after the Second World War, but you will wonder. Roman Christmas trees are magnificently dressed. The Christmas Tree at the Colosseum may be a tad shorter than the one at New York City’s Rockefeller Center, but with a backdrop as breathtaking as the ancient Roman stadium, you won’t miss a few feet’s difference. You find another big one in Piazza Venezia, in piazza Navona and on the top of the Spanish Steps, but you will discover a lot more and each one will be a surprise.
Even though rain is common in Rome in winter, the rainiest month is November, there are a lot of days when the sun shines. The temperature is moderate (usually around 10 degrees Celsius). It’s not hot, but it can still be warm and the soft winter lightening makes the buildings bright.
Enjoy a silent and splendid decorated city
Rome is one of the most magical cities to celebrate the Christmas. It’s amazing to enter in a Roman church that normally get lost in the candle twilight and discover it shining in a new splendor. What to say about the flower decoration and the nativity scenes? The festivity you smell in the air is an emotion. A part of the museums are closed half 24th and the 25th, but Rome is an open air museum. So why not enjoy the city, the silent streets when the hectic of the daily routine and the last presents to buy calms down and everything gets peaceful and discover the magnificent Christmas decoration. Via dei Condotti and Via del Corso Rome’s principle shopping streets are a highlight but you’ll find Christmas lights strung up around streets and piazzas all over the city, so take take your time to just wander around and soak up the atmosphere.
The holy crib
It’s amazing to think that the heart of Christianity attracts so little attention for such an important religious celebration, like is the birth of the Redeemer. On the summit of the Esquiline Hill, in St. Mary Major, the only patriarchal basilica of the four in Rome to have retained its paleo-Christian structure, under the high altar lies the celebrated relic known as the Holy Crib. A statue of Pope Pius IX kneeling before the ancient wooden pieces of the manger serves as an example to the faithful who come to see the first humble crib of the Savior. Pius IX’s devotion to the Holy Crib led him to commission the crypt chapel, and his coat of arms is visible above the altar. The precious crystal urn trimmed in silver, through which the faithful can venerate the relic, was designed by Giuseppe Valadier.
Arnolfo di Cambio’s “Crib”
The spiritual and sentimental image of the reconstruction of the “Crib” in remembrance of the venerated event of Christ’s birth, originated in 432 when Pope Sixtus III (432-440) created, within the primitive Basilica, a “cave of the Nativity” similar to that in Bethlehem. Numerous pilgrims returning to Rome from the Holy Land, brought back precious fragments of the Holy Crib (cunambulum), which are now kept in the golden Confessional shrine.
During the following centuries several popes took care of Sixtus III’s Holy Cave, until Pope Nicolò IV in 1288 commissioned a sculpture of the “Nativity” by Arnolfo di Cambio, that today can be seen in the museum of the Basilica.
Many changes and reconstructions took place in the basilica. When Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) wished to erect the large Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament or Sistina in the right nave, he ordered the architect Domenico Fontana to transfer, without dismantling, the ancient “cave of the Nativity” with its surviving elements of Arnolfo di Cambio’s sculpture.
The three Magi, dressed in elegant vestments and shoes in a rough gothic style, and Saint Joseph admire with a sense of wonder and reverence the miracle of the Baby in the Virgin Mary’s arms (of P. Olivieri) warmed by the ox and the donkey.
There is no more festive view of the magnificent Basilica than in Christmas Eve, when the nave is enlightened, igniting the golden mosaics, while the high altar arises in a sea of red Christ roses.
Christmas is the magic time. One of the most joyful things to due is to discover the nativity scenes in the Roman churches. They make not only children hearts beat faster. A lot of them have a great artistic value. In the majority of the churches there are covered till Christmas day, when the Christ child is put inside. Typically, Nativity scenes set up at Christmas are small and sit upon a table in your home. Rome takes the Nativity scene to a whole different level. Churches around the city create spectacular scenes of all different sizes and styles. You will not miss snow and rain and even moon and starlight. Most big churches prepare installations that are either animated, or inspired by local history or even contemporary. When you come to any church you’ll be amazed at the beauty and greatness of the nativity scenes.
To delve into the tradition of Italian nativity scenes we suggest going to the annual edition of the nativity crib exhibition: 100 Presepi (cribs made by artists across the globe) in Piazza del Popolo’s Sala del Bramante. 100 Presepi runs daily throughout the Christmas season until 6 January. As an alternative you can visit the Christmas cribs in churches all over Rome. Rome boasts also a private museum near the Roman Forum, Museo Tipologico Nazionale del Presepio, with of more than 3,000 Christmas cribs and crib memorabilia accumulated by crib expert Angelo Stefanucci (1905-1990).
Some scenes feature life-size figures, such as the Nativity at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. If you want to discover a really roman tradition have a look at the chapel of holy child. Every year the statue of Santo Bambino ( a copy now, the original was stolen) is pulled out and put into the church on Christmas Eve, where it stays until The Epiphany on January 6th. Others nativity scenes include the entire city of Bethlehem or a whole host of angels, singing hymns above the manger.
The midnight mass in St. Peter
Where better to celebrate a Catholic holiday than at the home of the Catholic Church? Visiting St. Peter’s Square is a must for any visitors spending Christmas in Rome. During December the square is home to a massive Christmas tree and a fantastic manger. The main events however, are the midnight mass on Christmas Eve which is said in St. Peter’s Basilica by the Pope and broadcasted to a whopper crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square and the hotly anticipated Pope’s Christmas address given from his balcony every year at 12pm.
Christmas in Rome is primarily a family holiday rather than something you share with people in the office or your neighbors. Christmas Eve dinner in Rome is traditionally an evening spent at home eating a grand meal, with seven fish courses no less. At Christmas, the Romans don’t eat meat as a form of respect and penitence. It is also an occasion to share the traditional and delicious Christmas sweets. Bakeries are working overtime with yummy holiday offerings like panettone (a large, round yeasted fruitcake traditionally eaten at Christmas), torrone and pandoro (a traditional soft yeast cake rich in butter with powdered sugar and no fruit).
Christmas is time for focusing on some pleasant shopping, and there is no place better than Rome to do it, since the city is renowned as one of the world’s capitals for shopping. You just can’t miss this opportunity! Walking down through the historic centre you will be surrounded by gorgeous arrays of boutiques and beautiful window displays that turn Rome around Christmas into a never-ending shopper’s paradise.
The main streets for shopping in Rome are Via del Corso, Via Condotti, Via del Babbuino and Via Frattina, all located in the heart of the historic centre, very close to world-famous attractions such as the Spanish Steps, the Colosseum or the Pantheon, all imbued with festive cheerful atmosphere.
As you stroll around the city, you will be amazed by the myriads of lights that are everywhere around the historic centre, decorating the beautiful squares and the monuments. Christmas Illuminations in December are the event that both locals and tourists look forward to: from November till middle January, the colored bulbs, glowing arches, show windows and sparkling garlands animate the streets of Rome in radiance and Christmas cheer.
Being in Rome on Christmas holidays is a unique chance to admire the Eternal City from a magical point of view, but also to buy nice gifts.
And last but not least we don’t want to forget to mention the Christmas market of piazza Navona.
Bustling with activity,street vendors, artists, street performers and even a romantic carousel and a little fair for the children, Piazza Navona evokes a nostalgic feel for the Advent season. Even if in the last years the ancient Roman tradition to go at least once to the Christmas market among Christmas and 6th january, a traditional holiday was mined by a controversy between the city authorities and the vendors no square is more cheerful in Christmas time and the church of Holy Agnese from great architect Borromini is sure one of the most beautiful to spend some time in. We hope we will have back the Christmas market of piazza Navona, like most of the Romans, even if it was a little bit to commercial and Christmas decoration and nativity scenes you could buy where no more of the greatest quality. Christmas is although this in Rome. A little bit above the lines and little bit of all kitsch, convention, simple popular tradition and great art.