With Christmas fast approaching, Umbria guarantees to pull out all the stops to ensure guests have a quintessential festive experience. A more commercial Christmas appeals to some, whilst the traditional aspect of Christmas thrives and grows in Umbria. In December, Umbria gets into the Christmas spirit with a whole host of authentic Christmas themed events. The Umbria region is pleased to announce they have seen a marked increase in Christmas visitors over the past two years.
Hotels thrive with a buzz of excitement as the Umbrians gear up for their biggest celebrations of the year. Just like the UK, the Umbrians not only celebrate the traditional Italian Christmas Eve but also like us, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
It’s impossible to turn a corner in Umbria during the holidays without stumbling upon charming creches (nativity scenes), which run from small, simple manger scenes to gigantic, extraordinarily detailed renderings of entire villages with surrounding countryside, complete with fountains, fires and moving mechanical figurines.
Why visit Umbria?
Christmas in Umbria begins with the festival of Immaculate Conception on the 8 December, the day on which the authentic Christmas markets open officially and the bustling streets are lit with thousands of coloured lights. The towns of Assisi, Orvieto, Todi, and Perugia, to name a few, invite holiday makers to admire their artistic wonders and discover Umbrian gastronomy and crafts, as well as traditional singing and pipe music.
In Umbria, Christmas is an unapologetically religious holiday. This is, after all, a very spiritual region in a deeply Catholic country, which is reflected not only in the ubiquitous nativity scenes but also in the centrality of religious services to the Christmas celebration.
The evocative living nativity scenes are enchanting and are found across the region. Many of the delightful villages and towns see tradition come to life. The living crib allows guests to plunge into the past and discover historic professions such as the blacksmith, the washerwoman, as well as ancient flavours with the culinary delights provided by the many refreshment stands along the route. Families will love the surprise guest’s appearances in the living nativity; some of the top tipped scenes can be seen in Spello, Corciano and Spoleto.
In December, the beautiful historic centre of Perugia turns into a real Christmas village: think themed crafts market with national and European exhibitors, fun activities and creative workshops open to all ages, where guests can make original Christmas decorations and sweets. The Christmas spirit reaches the ornate Rocca Paolina fortress too, which opens its doors to one of the most beautiful markets in Italy, as it has for the last twenty years during the festive period. The square houses a food court where mulled wine and hot donuts can be savoured in addition to the warming sausage panini.
The fragrance of Christmas wafts through the markets with treats like the Pampepato Ternano, a round and sweet cake, typical of the Province, on display. This specialty is made with walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cinnamon, nutmeg, chocolate, honey and raisins. The origin of this dessert dates back to the 16th century, perhaps as far away as the far east. For those feeling a little chilly, try the cappelletti pasta with broth. Traditionally families will make this speciality pre-Christmas in an annual family gathering bringing together the oldest and youngest family members for a festive tradition. You can still find real mistletoe being sold by country folk at many village markets, plus massive decorated hampers brimming with panettone Christmas cake, torrone nougat, bottles of spumante and local Perugina Baci chocolates.
And don’t miss out on sampling a few tipples: the wineries throw open their doors for the chance to visit at this festive time.
In the medieval town of Gubbio, guests can marvel at the largest Christmas tree in the world as recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1991. Best seen at night, the 2,130 foot tall tree of lights spreads up the mountain side. Since it was first created in 1981, a group of volunteers spread colourful lights on the slopes of Ingino Mount to recreate the shape of a giant Christmas tree. More than 250 green lights create the contours, circa 300 multicoloured lights cover its body and 200 bright lights draw an impressive comet with a surface of about 1,000 square metres at the top. The tree is officially switched on with a heartfelt ceremony on the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and remains lit until Epiphany. During this time, the historic town centre offers a traditional-style Christmas market in the Piazza Bernini and Piazza San Giovanni, where many goodies and chocolate treat are found.
Christmas season masses are held on 8 December, Christmas Day, 26 December – the Feast of Saint Steven and also a holiday – and 6 January. But of course, the most poignant and beautiful Masses are those at midnight on Christmas Eve.
8 December to 1 January, Umbria Gospel Festival: Gospel lovers can enjoy the concerts at the Umbria Gospel Festival in the beautiful villages of Gubbio, Panicale and Città delle Pieve, while classical music echoes in the churches and historic buildings of Perugia.
24-26 December: Christmas in Assisi: Taking place over the Christmas week, the solemn celebrations in Assisi demand a mention. Midnight mass at the Basilica Inferiore di San Francesco and the a cappella concert by the Cantori di Assisi in the Basilica di Santa Chiara on boxing day is a huge treat.
Even if you are not drawn to Mass, you can enjoy wonderful classical music in many of the same cathedrals during their Christmas concert. Otherwise, if the thought of one more carol or Handel concerto is more than you can bear, shake things up a bit at either the winter edition of the famed Umbria Jazz Festival — held in Orvieto each holiday season.
28 December to 1 January, Umbria Jazz Winter Festival: The free Umbria Jazz Winter festival runs from 28 December to 1 January in Orvieto with a myriad of concerts to celebrate the New Year arriving in style.
9-16 December: The magic of Christmas in Assisi: Everyone is enchanted by the Christmas markets of Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis. The event “La Magia del Natale ad Assisi” (the Magic of Christmas in Assisi) takes place every year during the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in the squares Piazza del Comune and Piazza Santa Chiara with several initiatives involving children, including workshops, Christmas tree decoration, entertainment activities, readings, face painting and shows performed by jugglers and puppeteers. The entire holiday season is rich in plays and concerts.
Various dates: Spoleto: Nestled among the narrow streets surrounding the Cathedral in the heart of the historic centre, Spoleto hosts many shops and workshops. Considered one of the greatest historic cities of central Italy, it plays host to the event “Natale in Mostra” (Christmas on show). It is an indoor market of arts, handicrafts and vintage items held in the square Piazza Torre dell’Olio during Christmas time. The traditional market is organised into pretty wooden houses within the walls of the historic centre and you can also take part in the famous event “Tradizioni in Piazza” with handicraft displays and food products from all over Italy.
To spend the holidays in a serene, warm and welcoming atmosphere, visit the other cities and small towns of the region such as Terni, Todi, Norcia, Citta di Castello, Sigillo, Scheggia or one of the villages overlooking Lake Trasimeno. The city of Orvieto is known for its Christmas lights, decorations, cribs and markets.
Of course, Christmas isn’t Christmas without good food in Umbria. The mainstay of the traditional holiday lunch in Umbria is cappelletti in brodo, small meat-filled tortellini made with sheets of handmade egg pasta, stuffed with a mixture of minced chicken, veal, and pork (plus some sausage and mortadella, just in case it’s not meaty enough) and served in an orange-infused capon broth. Many local restaurants feature them on the fixed menu on Christmas Day, or they can be purchased in small specialty pasta shops and cooked at home.
Any Christmas meal must be finished off with the ubiquitous panettone, a traditional Christmas cake originally from Milan, but wholeheartedly adopted by the Umbrians. The traditional recipe calls for candied fruit, but, it seems, 98% of the population choose a variation with shaved chocolate and raisins.
Individual press trips are available this Christmas so please come and experience Christmas in Umbria.