The Italian Holiday Season Begins

The Christmas season is upon us; here in Lecco, holiday lights are already up over some of the main streets, though they have not yet been lit, and shopkeepers are busy decorating. At least Italian merchants aren’t quite as overeager as some others. In the US, some Christmas displays go up right after Halloween. When I was in England in early October, one department store (John Lewis) already had Christmas decorations up!

The run-up to Christmas is the only time when it’s almost as easy to shop in Italy as it is in the US. Stores, especially big ones, are open on Sundays starting next weekend; Sunday openings are a rarity at other times of year, though they are becoming more common with suburban “big box” stores. As we get closer to Christmas, shops will also stay open later, to around 10 pm.

Most small shops are owned by individuals or families, and I’ve always wondered when they get their holiday shopping done, since they are open seven days a week from late November through December 24th. They must be more organized than they expect us to be, and get it all done beforehand. In the last two or three weeks before Christmas, even food stores are open on Sundays. This would seem unnecessary, except for the last Sunday before Christmas when everyone is preparing for a feast. But there is a reason: one fine Italian Christmas tradition is gift baskets of food and wine, generally sent to professional acquaintances or employees, and sometimes to teachers. Enrico’s parents, both well-loved professors at the University of Rome, used to receive amazing baskets every year of fruit, nuts, wine, and Christmas sweets. I eagerly await the day when Enrico’s students take up this habit!

tell us about your winter travel experiences in Italy

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