In Italy, December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, is a public holiday in Italy. A lot of people assume that the Immaculate Conception refers to Jesus, but in fact in refers to Mary. According to the Catholic Church, Mary was conceived in her mother’s womb without original sin (the sin of Adam & Eve that is passed down through humanity). Thus we celebrate the Immaculate Conception on December 8th, nine months before the Feast of Mary (her birthday) on September 8th.
I was lucky enough to be in Bologna on December 8th last year and was so surprised by the celebration! The Asinelli Tower was strung its entire length with beautiful blue lights!
That morning they closed down the main street to vehicle traffic, only letting cars and trucks servicing the festivities to enter. All of Piazza Maggiore and Piazza Nettuno were getting set up for a huge street party that night!
Live music, lots of lights, a huge Christmas tree, dancing and general merriment prevailed. A small “Santa train” took kids around the square.
I saw a lot of people going into an large, arched doorway on the eastern side of Piazza Nettuno, and decided to follow. It turned out to be a huge Christmas festival in the 13th century Palazzo Re Enzo, which takes its name from Enzo of Sardinia (Frederick II’s son) who was kept prisoner here from 1249 to 1272, when he passed away. The top floor was full of local artisans and booths where local shops were selling their wares. I bought body lotion made from cabernet grapes and a small metal magnet set in a mold of an Italian motorcycle racer, the first two Christmas gifts I had bought that season! On the floor below it was a large room with Bolognese specialties, from handmade tortellini to culatello to pre-made meat sauce just like your grandmother used to make (if she was from Bologna, that is).
That wasn’t the only Christmas market in Bologna, though. There were several others set up for the entire season, including a “French” one in Piazza XX Settembre. It was selling soaps and other French-inspired crafts, French food-stuffs (including hot items that were great for a quick lunch). The guy at the jam booth was super cute with super blue eyes… I almost bought my weight in chestnut jam
Others were more typical and touristic with the same sort of made-in-china goods you’ll see at Christmas markets throughout Italy these days.
Right by my B&B, though, in Piazza Santo Stefano, there was an antique fair!
Inside Santo Stefano, locally known as “Sette Chiese” or the “Seven Churches” because of its long and varied history of construction, there was an incredible nativity. Because it’s not Christmas in Italy without a vast array of grand presepe (nativity scenes).
The entire city was decked out in lights. They were strung along every street, large, shiny presents hanging from baskets in archways, elaborate Christmas pastries and cakes displayed in bakery windows, brilliant chandelier-like installments seemingly hanging from mid-air.
It was thrilling to be in Bologna for the start of the Christmas season! So incredibly festive and joyous – if you find yourself in Italy on December 8th, make sure you find out what is going on to kick off the Christmas season wherever you are. I promise you it will be worth it!