Translated by Alanna Quintyne

Christmas is getting closer and closer and that’s why I decided to take advantage of this very magical time to help you discover some Christmas vocabulary!

Christmas is getting closer and closer and that’s why I decided to take advantage of this very magical time to help you discover some Christmas vocabulary.

I have already delved into the topic a little in articles about Christmas, New Year, the Nativity Scene as well as how to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. If by chance you haven’t had the opportunity to see them, I recommend that you read and listen to them. However, today I would like to focus on typical terms related to Christmas that you all need to know in order to best describe this festive period.

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L’albero di Natale (Christmas tree)

The Christmas season begins on the 8th of December with the preparation of the nativity scene. Together with this, Italians also prepare the famous Christmas tree.

Unfortunately, in Italy, real Christmas trees are not very common, so most families buy a plastic one. However, on a positive note, we have to admit that these plastic alternatives last for years and years and luckily, this symbolic object doesn’t have to be changed every year.

Each Christmas tree worthy of its name must be decorated with:

– Lights or sets of lights: that can be white or multicolored depending on preference.

– Christmas ornaments (balls): which can be large or small and monochrome or multicolored. There are many people who every year decide to buy a new one to add to their collection.

– Christmas tinsel: colorful streamers that can be wrapped around the tree. It is not always necessary to buy them, often by using a little imagination and creativity you can create them at home. I often did this with my family by making threads with pasta or popcorn for a fantastic snow effect!

– Christmas tree topper: an essential detail on every Christmas tree and can be star-shaped, angel-shaped or elongated, to name a few. However, it is the icing on the cake of any Christmas tree worthy of respect.

Le lettere (Letters)

At Christmas time, letters are a must and children write them to two specific characters:

  • Gesu Bambino (Baby Jesus): to whom children who come from highly religious families mostly turn.
  • Babbo Natale: the Italian name for Santa Claus, who is probably the biggest recipient of these letters. 

Pay attention to the name Babbo, a word used extensively in Tuscany which means “dad”. 

Whether children write to Baby Jesus or to Santa Claus, the letter contains the children’s wishes, what they want for Christmas, and since the writers are children, it is normal that most of the time they wish for toys.

I dolci (Sweets)

From the beginning of December, the preparation of traditional sweets begins. Obviously, these are dry sweets that last many days before going bad. 

Just think that my grandmother even had an entire room dedicated to being used as a “sweets room” in which we could enter only and exclusively with her permission. Crazy right?

I giorni di festa (Holidays)

Little by little as the days progress, we arrive at:

  • Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve), which is more commonly known as “La vigilia” always falls on December 24th.

This day is a working day, but many people only work a half day, in order to have time to do some last minute shopping before Christmas day and prepare the last few things at home. The day before the 24th is instead called:

  • Antivigilia is the name assigned, as I mentioned before, to the day before Christmas Eve and falls on December 23rd. This day is definitely a working day and basically a normal day for all intents and purposes.
  • Il giorno di Natale (Christmas Day), December 25th, is the day of celebration par excellence, and many people go to visit friends and relatives, take long walks in the city center and last but not least, being Italian, they eat. At Christmas the traditional games can’t be missing, i.e. the famous tombola and the cards.
  • Il giorno di Santo Stefano (St. Stephen’s Day/Boxing Day) is celebrated on December 26th and like Christmas, is another holiday during which we do not work. 

From the 27th to the 31st we have a break period from all these celebrations during which we go back to normal. However, on the night of the 31st of December, we start to party again with the famous Notte di San Silvestro (New Year’s Eve), or better known as Capodanno, during which we wait until midnight to welcome the new year.

Speaking of Italian traditions, it goes without saying that on December 24th, or Christmas Eve, the feast begins, that’s to say, there is the appearance of big meals made of very abundant lunches and dinners, consisting of several courses: aperitifs, appetizers, two firs courses, two second courses, side dishes, fruits, various desserts, coffee, ammazzacaffè and the list goes on.

I regali (Gifts)

Christmas traditions may vary from family to family, such as the time of opening gifts. In fact, when we have to unwrap presents, many wait until the morning of the 25th, while others, who cannot resist, open them on the evening of the 24th, usually closer to midnight. 

Personally, I belong to the second category, but I have to admit that as a child, in my family gifts were opened exclusively on Christmas morning! Who knows, maybe it was a way to convince me and my sister to go to sleep!

Speaking of opening gifts (aprire i regali), did you know that in Italian we have a more specific verb to say the same thing? Yes, we use scatare, meaning to take the gift out of its wrapping. Its opposite instead is incartare, i.e., to wrap in paper. 

But are there other ways to say gift in Italian? Of course there are! In addition to regalo, we can also say: dono, presente, pensiero and strenna.

Well, we’ve reached the end of this article called “Christmas vocabulary”, in which we have mixed a bit of Italian tradition with vocabulary. I hope that with this you were able to learn new terms that you didn’t know before or brush up on those you already knew. 

At this point, all that remains is to wish you a Merry Christmas and to recommend an article in which I revealed other ways to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

ila firma

Listen to this episode in Italian! You can find the script here!

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