Traveling to Italy so often -- at least several times a year -- I've discovered that my favorite season to visit Italy is winter, especially right around Christmas. This is the time when tourist crowds are more tame, the weather is usually still mild and Italians are doing what they do best: bringing together family, food and faith according to age-old traditions. While modern life have caught up with many other areas of Italian life, Christmas in Italy still seems to be held sacred. Home to the Vatican, and many noteworthy churches, Italy's capital of Rome, in particular, offers a wealth of free Christmas festivities:
Piazza Navona's Christmas Market
The Nativity Museum (Museo Tipologico Internazionale del Presepio)
Over 3,000 nativity figures and mangers -- from every corner Italy and the world - are on display at Rome's Nativity Museum. According to Frances, you will find pieces made from all kinds of materials - clay, stone, coal, cloth -- even eggs and marzipan. The museum, founded in 1953 by the run by the Italian Association of Friends of the Nativity, has extended hours during the holidays but is also open most of the rest of the year.
Midnight Mass at the Vatican
Likely the most famous Midnight Mass in the world, Christmas Eve services at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City are once-in-a-lifetime event for those who are lucky enough to get tickets to sit inside the church. Like many Christmas Eve services, ""Midnight Mass" at the Vatican actually now starts two hours earlier (10 p.m.) than the traditional time. Although challenging, it is possible to score these tickets to the Midnight Mass at the Vatican but you have to start trying early -- like in May -- and work any connections (now is the time to reach out to your cousin the bishop) you may have. Yet, you don't need tickets to soak up the magical feeling in St. Peter's Square on Christmas Eve. When my parents and I spent an impromptu Christmas in Rome a few years back, we stood in St. Peter's Square -- next to the life-size nativity scene -- and watched the mass on large video screens. The warm energy and joy our fellow pilgrims in the square that night added to the magical experience.
Christmas Eve at Ara Coeli
For more on Christmas in Rome, get a free copy of Dream of Italy's 35-page Christmas in Italy guide.
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