12/20/2013 03:21 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2014

Rick Steves' European Christmas: Buon Natale from Italy!

Next on our Rick Steves' European Christmas itinerary was Italy. One of my favorite guides in all of Europe is Roberto Bechi (who has taught and inspired our tour groups and guidebook readers visiting his Tuscan hometown of Siena for twenty years). Roberto worked his wonders -- as he always does when I'm in town with a film crew -- and, with his connections, he had sacred music and prayer infusing the tranquil Italian landscape with the spirit of Christmas. With his help, we filmed living nativities recreating the town of Bethlehem in idyllic towns.

In Rome, from Piazza Navona's Christmas market to the ultimate manger scene in front of St. Peter's Basilica, the city was bursting with Christmas traditions. The highlight was filming the Midnight Mass at the Vatican on Christmas Eve -- which happened to be Pope John Paul II's last Christmas.

The logistics of this shoot were tricky. While it seemed we were everywhere on Christmas, we only actually shot Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Rome and in Salzburg. (Other "Christmas" celebrations you see were staged for our cameras a few days before the real thing.) While it seemed I was everywhere, I was never actually in England, France, or Italy. You'll notice throughout that I established myself in each of those countries with "on- cameras" that could pass for those places. For example, the shot of me "in Rome" was actually in front of the cathedral of Salzburg, which was designed to be a one-quarter-scale knock-off of St. Peter's -- but in Austria. Forgive me, Father...for I have deceived.