For a truly unforgettable holiday season this year, consider celebrating Christmas in Rome with Ker & Downey. Our Europe specialist Jennifer Sottile grew up in Rome and has a lot of memories of spending the season in one of Europe’s oldest cities. Below you will find our top five things that shouldn’t be missed during the holiday season.
St. Peter’s Square
Nothing says, “It’s Christmas” like a large tree adorned with ornaments and sparkling lights. In Rome, you can find a Christmas tree at the end of every main street. However to see Rome’s version of the Rockefeller Plaza tree, head to St. Peter’s Square. Locals and tourists form around the world flock to the square each year to see the tree and life-size nativity scene next to it. Planning is already underway for this year’s scene and in November, construction will begin on the nativity scene, culminating in the unveiling on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Market at Piazza Navona
Just like Austria and Germany, Rome also has a Christmas market in the heart of the city at Piazza Navona, where families come together to take pictures with Santa Claus and his reindeer and eat pizza to keep their hands warm and their stomachs full. At the center of the Piazza there is a carousel to entertain the children while shoppers seek out handcrafted Nativity sets and load up on crepes with Nutella.
Procession of Santo Bambino
The long and storied history of the statue of Santo Bambino (infant Jesus) dates back to the 16th century when a Franciscan Friar carved it from a piece of olive wood from the Garden of Gethsemane. According to legend, the friar did not have the necessary paints to finish the statue, but when he awoke in the morning, the statue had miraculously painted itself. He set sail for Rome with the statue, but on arrival the ship sank. However the statue washed up onto shore and was blessed by the Pope and placed in the Church of Santa Maria Aracoeli on Capitoline Hill. After it was stolen in the early 1990’s, a new piece of olive wood was requested so that a reproduction could be carved and again blessed by the Pope. On Christmas Eve the statue is put in the church’s manger scene until January 6, when it is part of a procession to the top of the Aracoeli staircase. The procession attracts thousands of people each year.
The Santa Maria Maggiore Nativity Scene
Nativity scenes are an important symbol in Christianity and can be found throughout Rome during the Christmas season. The earliest manger scene dates back to the late 13th century when Arnolfo di Cambio, a gothic sculptor and architect, was commissioned to carve something for the the first Rome Jubilee in 1300. The the nativity, carved out of marble, is said to be the oldest manger scene and is located at the museum of Santa Maria Maggiore.
Midnight Mass is a tradition that can be found worldwide, but there are none as famous as the Christmas Eve services at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. Even without a lucky ticket to partake of mass inside the church, it is still something to behold outside, with large television screens set up to project the mass to the thousands of people who have gathered outside to ring in Christmas Day. Finish off the night by dining on the rooftop of the Exclusive Eden Hotel overlooking the Eternal City.