Christmas is a magical time in Rome. Streets in the historic center twinkle with traditional light displays, shops lay red carpets outside their premises, and the city’s churches come to life with Nativity scenes, several of which feature real, live people.
It is a far cry from the tinselly excesses of North America and northern Europe, although Santa Claus makes an increasing presence each year in Roman shopfronts.
Christmas in Rome is a much less glitzy experience, revolving instead around cultural and religious traditions, family and food.
For many the festive season will begin on 5 December, when the Vatican switches on the lights on its Christmas tree in St Peter’s Square. This year it is a 26m-high spruce from the northern Italian region of Rotzo, in the province of Vicenza, whose centuries-old forests were devastated by gales last winter. The timber crib will be made in the Trentino tradition, with more than 20 life-sized figures as well as some tree trunks from the storm-hit forests. On Friday 6 December, the community of the Pontifical Irish College holds its annual Advent liturgy followed by Christmas carols at 18.00. Firmly established on Rome’s ex-pat calendar, this nostalgic occasion is made all the more festive with mulled wine and panettone, the popular Italian Christmas cake.
Popularly known by now as Spelacchio, the city’s Christmas tree is sponsored by US media-services provider Netflix and will be in Piazza Venezia over the festive season.
The 80,000 led lights on the tree, a 22-m high, will be switched on by the city’s mayor Virginia Raggi on 8 December. Spelacchio will be decorated with 1,000 red and gold decorations and will be illuminated 24 hours a day until 6 January.