Blog » Learn Italian » Italian Vocabulary » How to Wish Merry Christmas in Italian – Holiday Traditions and Sayings

How to Wish Merry Christmas in Italian – Holiday Traditions and Sayings

December is fast approaching, and with it the coveted days off to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with your loved ones.

How about celebrating your language learning efforts by learning how to wish someone a Merry Christmas in Italian? I’m sure you love learning about Italian culture, so in this article we’ll also discover some Christmas customs and traditions that are exclusive to the Italian peninsula.

Whether you avoid Christmas songs like the plague (veteran Whamageddon player here!) or wait all year to bring out the sparkly decorations and bask in the shopping, you will find some interesting facts about Italian Christmas in this holiday-themed article. All aboard the sleigh!

How to wish someone a Merry Christmas in Italian

The most common way to wish someone a Merry Christmas in Italian is:

  • Buon Natale!
    Merry Christmas!

It is pronounced bwON nah-TAH-leh. It’s usually used until December 26th, but I’ve heard people wish Buon Natale a few days after December 25th too.

As the New Year approaches, you can also use:

  • Buon anno nuovo!
  • Happy New Year!

Or you can just say:

  • Buon anno!
  • Happy (New) Year!

Buon anno is used especially in January as a generic farewell when it’s too late to wish Merry Christmas in Italian. You can say it until the end of January, especially if you run into someone you’re friends with and haven’t had a chance to exchange wishes.

Since not everyone celebrates Christmas (but almost everyone takes some time off at this time of year), there are also some neutral wishes you can use, such as:

  • Buone feste!
    Happy holidays!

Buone feste is a passepartout wish that encompasses all Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. You can find it on television, in advertisements and on Christmas cards.

If these greetings sound too short for your liking, there is also:

  • Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo!
    Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

This is used when you want to say Merry Christmas in Italian and you’re not sure if you’ll see the person again for some time, so you want to anticipate possible missed wishes with a more complete sentence.

If you want to know how to pronounce this sentence, here’s a funny clip from the movie Home Alone… And if your friends can take a joke, you can even link to this video to wish them a Merry Christmas in Italian! 😉

Where does Natale come from?

You may wonder where the word Natale comes from, since it sounds like it has nothing to do with Christ.

Well, Natale comes from the Latin word Natāle(m), which also comes from the Latin expression diem natālem Christi (“the day of Christ’s birth”). Natāle(m) comes from natālis, from nātus, “born”.

Today, the verb “to be born” is translated as nascere in Italian. “Birth” is nascita and “born” as a past participle is nato.

“At/on Christmas” is translated as a Natale, literally “at Christmas”, while “this Christmas” is translated as questo Natale. Always remember to capitalize the N! For example:

  • Che cosa farai a Natale?
    What are you doing on Christmas?
  • Questo Natale ceneremo in un ristorante di lusso.
    This Christmas we will dine at a fancy restaurant.

Now that you know how to wish people a Merry Christmas in Italian, let’s look at some idiomatic expressions used during Christmas celebrations. We will also talk about Italian traditions that you may not have encountered before.

Christmas traditions in Italy

The vigilia di Natale

The vigilia di Natale is the day before Christmas. All the families gather for the cena di Natale on the evening of the vigilia or on Christmas Day for a big, loud and joyful meal with the pranzo di Natale, Christmas lunch.

It is also common for families to go to midnight mass (la messa di mezzanotte) on Christmas Eve.

There’s a famous Italian saying that goes:

Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi.
“Christmas with your (relatives), Easter with whoever you want”.

This is because the Italian Christmas is considered a time to be spent with family and close relatives. It’s imperative for Italians to spend Christmas with their families. On the other hand, you can choose who you want to spend Easter with without offending anyone, although that’s also a great opportunity for families to get together.

If you have relatives living in Italy, you can’t just get by with a simple Merry Christmas in Italian!

The regali

It is customary for people to exchange gifts, the regali. Presents are placed around Christmas trees in homes, and all young children look forward to Christmas midnight to open them all!

Presents come from parents, relatives and friends. Children eagerly await the arrival of Babbo Natale, Santa Claus, who traditionally enters the house through the chimney.

The befana

The Italian Christmas season traditionally ends on January 6th with the holiday of Epifania, the Epiphany. On this day, the befana, a little old woman, brings small gifts to children.

It’s a tradition to put presents in a calza, a large sock that is usually filled to the brim with candy and chocolate. However, if the child has been naughty, the befana will give them charcoal instead! Nowadays you can buy calze filled with sweets and pieces of sweet charcoal, carbone dolce: it looks like real charcoal, but it’s a candy and it’s delicious.

Try your hand with this carbone dolce recipe (in Italian) for your next Epiphany!

There is a popular saying that Epiphany takes away all celebrations:

  • L’epifania tutte le feste le porta via.
    “The Epiphany takes away all the celebrations”.

This means that after Epiphany, people go back to the office. There is nothing else to celebrate!

The presepe (nativity scene)

The presepe, also known as the presepio, is an important Christmas tradition in Italy.

Nowadays, my parents and I bring out Christmas decorations to decorate the tree, but when I was little, my mom and I would spend an entire evening setting up our nativity scene on a large drawer in the living room.

We would make a starry sky by cutting some starry blue wrapping paper and taping it to the wall behind the drawer. We would take some brown paper and crumple it up to look like the entrance to a cave. Inside the cave, we would place the tiny figures of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the two animals, the donkey and the ox.

We would also use tinfoil to make rivers and very small pebbles to make banks. Houses are very small works of art made of cardboard, glue, paint, and moss.

The Neapolitan nativity scene is particularly famous. Many artisans in the “via dei presepi” in Naples create many beautiful handmade nativity figures that you can buy and add to your own nativity scene at home.

Tradition has it that you can’t place the Three Wise Men (re magi in Italian) until Epiphany. Little me wanted to add them as soon as we finished adding all the other figures.

The albero di Natale

According to Catholic tradition, the Christmas tree, l’albero di Natale, should be made on December 8th, the day of the Immacolata Concezione (Immaculate Conception). However, some people wait until December 22 to get their fake trees out of the garage and decorate them in their living rooms.

Public Christmas trees are usually the real thing. Trees in homes, however, are more often than not fake. That doesn’t mean they look like cheap plastic. On the contrary! They are often high quality, and when decorated with all kinds of ornaments, such as glitter balls, terracotta angels, and chocolates for the kids, they are a feast for the eyes.

The luminarie

The luminarie, the lights, are what liven up Italian cities during the Christmas season. Each municipality, or comune, chooses its own lights and where to place them. Some even make Christmas trees, others just light up the streets: it depends on their budget.

Lights are usually placed on lampposts or between trees on a boulevard. Virtually all shops and businesses will also place their own lights, so the city centers really spring to life at this time of year.

The mercatino di Natale

The mercatino di Natale in Italy, the Christmas market, is not a very old tradition. Modern Christmas markets have only spread in the last 30 years, in the 90s.

The Mercatino di Natale di Trento (Trento Christmas Market) is one of the most famous: it’s open from mid-November until January 6th, and you can buy various items of Christmas tradition such as candles, candle holders, hats, dolls and handmade blown glass decorations.

Christmas vocabulary in Italian

Now that we’ve taken a look at the most common Christmas traditions in Italy, let’s take a look at some Christmas words you can use and some example sentences to enrich your Italian vocabulary:

  • il Natale
  • l’albero di Natale
    the Christmas tree
  • le luminarie
    the lights
  • le decorazioni natalizie
    the Christmas decorations
  • la cena di Natale
    the Christmas dinner
  • il pranzo di Natale
    the Christmas lunch
  • il presepe/presepio
    the nativity scene
  • i canti di Natale
    the Christmas carols
  • il periodo natalizio
    the Christmas period
  • il mercatino di Natale
    the Christmas market
  • Babbo Natale
    Santa Claus (“Father Christmas”)
  • il regalo di Natale
    the Christmas present
  • la renna
    the reindeer
  • la slitta
    the sleigh


  • Alcune renne trainano la slitta di Babbo Natale.
    Some reindeer pull Santa’s sleigh.
  • Questo fine settimana faremo l’albero di Natale in soggiorno.
    This weekend we will make the Christmas tree in the living room.
  • I bambini non vedono l’ora di aprire i loro regali di Natale.
    Children look forward to opening their Christmas presents.
  • Sul viale ci sono delle luminarie a forma di renna.
    There are reindeer-shaped lights on the boulevard.

So now you know how to say Merry Christmas in Italian! Book your next Christmas vacation to Italy and experience firsthand all the traditions we’ve talked about in this article. I assure you, your holiday will be truly magical.

Buon Natale a tutti! Merry Christmas, everyone!

Learn Italian faster with Clozemaster 🚀

Clozemaster has been designed to help you learn the language in context by filling in the gaps in authentic sentences. With features such as Grammar Challenges, Cloze-Listening, and Cloze-Reading, the app will let you emphasize all the competencies necessary to become fluent in Italian.

Take your Italian to the next level. Click here to start practicing with real Italian sentences!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *