If you’ve been studying Italian for at least a few months, you probably already know how to say Merry Christmas in Italian. But what do Italians say on Christmas Eve?
In Italian, Christmas Eve is most commonly known as la Vigilia di Natale, with vigilia referring to the eve of a festival or holy day as an occasion of religious observance, exactly like the English word vigil. It also goes by the names Notte di Natale (lit. Christmas Night) and Santo Giorno (lit. Holy Day).
With this in mind, it shouldn’t be too difficult to guess how to say “Merry Christmas Eve” in Italian!
Buona Vigilia di Natale!
Merry Christmas Eve!
Buona means “good” in Italian and it is in its feminine form because vigilia is a feminine noun. It also appears in Buon Natale (Merry Christmas), in its masculine truncated form buon.
But how do Italians celebrate la Vigilia di Natale?
If there is one thing that defines Christmas Eve in Italy, it is food. Italian families love to get together in the evening for dinner (in this case they use the word cenone, lit. big dinner), which is often as abundant and varied as Christmas lunch! Many of the delicacies are firmly rooted in the peasant tradition, having been passed down through the generations. They include:
- Tortellini e capelli d’angelo in brodo
- Spaghetti con le vongole
- Tartine al salmone
- Frittura mista
- Panettone / Pandoro
Once the clock strikes midnight, children place the figurine of Gesù Bambino (Baby Jesus) into the crib of the presepe (nativity scene). Many children also leave out milk and cookies for Santa and his reindeer, just as they do in other countries.
The truly faithful attend midnight mass together, while other families may choose to stay at home and relax.