You are here: HomeGlobal Focus › The Mundane Meets The Sacred At Christmas Time In Italy

The mundane meets the sacred at Christmas time in Italy

The mundane meets the sacred at Christmas time in Italy

The mundane meets the sacred at Christmas time in Italy

Christmas in Italy is about food, fellowship and Christ – focusing on building family and faith. Community markets (above) play a big part in Christmas celebrations.

By Captain Andrew Lee

Celebrating Christmas in Italy is about food, fellowship and Christ – much like what I have experienced in Australia. There are some differences, with a deep and rich history of the Catholic Church mixed with Italian culture, and there are a number of public holidays and special traditions observed.

Traditional Christmas foods are a big part of the celebrations.

For The Salvation Army, corps are very active in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Some things are similar to what happens in many other parts of the world – small groups carolling, larger corps trying to help smaller corps, musicians travelling at their own expense and some corps arranging for visits to places like prisons, retirement homes and hospitals.

Corps in inner-city areas start delivering meals on the street in December as the weather turns cold. The cooks prepare home-style meals as food holds an important role in Italian society, and the quality of the ingredients and time dedicated to the preparation are a matter of great pride for our volunteers.

The children in local corps are involved in music, Christmas recitals and visitation as well as youth-centred activities, including Messy Church.

On Christmas Eve, family and friends gather for cenone, which literally translates as ‘big dinner’. Last year I participated in my first cenone, with a work colleague and his father. I was expecting a normal three-course meal with some kind of meat as the main course. However, traditionally people eat fish and seafood, but not meat. I was full after the first two courses and realised that there was more food to come! In the end, there were seven courses in the ‘big dinner’. Family and friends socialise and catch up with news of people that they know while eating. They stay up (la vigilia) to welcome Christmas day (and maybe attend the midnight mass) and to celebrate Christ’s birth at the stroke of midnight.

Captain Andrew Lee feels quite at home in Italy.

There is a late-morning Christmas service and, for some corps after the meeting, everything is quiet because it is not the place that people share Christmas meals. In Italy, you usually eat out with friends, acquaintances and colleagues. However, on those special occasions, when it is fitting to have a proper family meal, the right place is the home.

Our church members amaze us every year by making sure that no one is left alone on Christmas Day, by inviting each other not only to share a meal but also to share a space usually reserved for a meaningful relationship. Christmas here is more than a corps program. It is about showing in a very tangible way that we are indeed a family.

The mundane meets the sacred by welcoming the community at the Christmas table, building relationships and fulfils the meaning of Christ’s message of reconciliation and love.


Captain Andrew Lee is the Finance Officer for the Italy and Greece Command.




No comments yet - be the first.

Leave a Comment

- Will not be published

Email me follow-up comments

Note: Your comment requires approval before being published.

Default avatarWould you like to add a personal image? Visit to get your own free gravatar, a globally-recognized avatar. Once setup, your personal image will be attached every time you comment.