Rome between Christmas & New Year’s Day: what you should know
Whether you’ve already planned to be in Rome for the end-of-the year festivities or are considering to come in at that particular time, there are things you should know about how the city transforms during the whole of December and part of January. Having a clear idea of what is going to happen will protect you from disappointment and will make your experience in the city more enjoyable.
First things first: the holiday season in Italy is HUGE
The entire “Christmas holidays” time, as it is called at large using an old-time definition, ranges from December 8 to January 6. This 4-weeks period includes a few different festivities where closures are observed, either by shops, public offices, museums or all of them:
- December 8: Feast of the Immaculate Conception
- December 25 and 26: Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day
- January 1: New Year’s Day
- January 6: Epiphany/Three Kings Day
On these particular days, you may find that a few stores will be, on the other hand, open, which happens when they are owned or run by people from a different religious community (or by those who are not religious at all).
On this particular subject: end-of-the year festivities are not necessarily observed in a religious manner, but nearly every Italian participates in them. In a much more secular way, 21st century Italians use this time to reconnect with their family or friends, often travelling to other parts of the country. It is a time for sharing meals that are exclusive to these days and a time for games and parties (notice how much of the traditional events planned throughout this period shares a lot with the ancient Roman Saturnalia festival – including the exchanging of gifts!).
Obviously, many Italians – among them many Romans – are believers, and of course many residents observe different festivities depending on their denomination: Ortodox Christmas happens on January 7 & 8, for instance, while Kwanzaa begins on December 26 and the Jewish Chanukkah will be celebrated between December 2 and December 10.
We know it’s a lot to take in, so for the sake of simplicity, the government as well as those authorities regulating the many monuments of Rome will use the above schedule to allow their workers to take some time off. Hence the public closures. That’s what you should memorise, too!
What happens during the holiday period
Shops will mostly observe longer opening hours to encourage your festive shopping. You will find signs with information on storefronts. When you don’t, don’t be shy and ask the owners!
More importantly, though, said shops will close earlier on December 24 and again on December 31. Once again, make sure you’re aware of this to save yourself from disappointment (and help yourself to some last-minute groceries!).
Decorations with lights and colourful wreaths are very common throughout Rome, as are Christmas trees and nativity scenes.
While caroling is not a thing (unless expat communities are involved in the organisation!) Christmas markets are, and in one of our upcoming post we will detail suggested activities in December which include this popular pastime. Other common events include opera concerts, ballets, Christmas-themed exhibitions and Santas parading through the city center.
Many Christmas masses will be celebrated throughout the city, with the Holy Mass at the Vatican being the most famous one. If you’re interested in that one, specifically, know that you will be only able to get in if you’re a holder of its much coveted tickets, so if you don’t already have one we’re afraid you’re not going to able to make it there.
On the subject of Catholic devouts, be aware that many churches will be packed with locals as well as foreign travellers, particularly during one of the main holidays indicated above. So if you’ve been planning to visit your Caravaggios and Michelangelos inside the different Roman churches where their masterpieces are, make sure you go when there is no celebration planned. If you do happen during one of the Masses, please respect this time and the believers there.
What happens on New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve in Rome is a special time in a city that relies on its breathtaking settings every day of the year.
Again, this is a time for non-ordinary, abundant meals, with the difference that many Italians will try to do so at restaurants as compared to Christmas proper, which is mostly spent at home with one’s loved ones. For this reason, if you plan to have dinner somewhere, make sure you plan this well in advance. We’ll get you more information on this in a dedicated post.
Romans love a vantage point, so if you don’t choose to go to a New Year’s Eve party (very common throughout the city in pubs, restaurants or clubs alike), locals as well as tourists tend to congregate on one of the city’s many lookouts, such as the Pincio hill terrace over Piazza del Popolo, the Janiculum Hill or the Zodiaco belvedere on the Monte Mario hill. Once there, they get drink and spend time chatting, waiting for the fireworks displays to go off.
Know that these are massive and happen throughout the city, and while the large majority are operated by professionals hired by local administrators, a huge number of smaller fireworks are exploded from Romans from their own homes. So make sure you’re aware that walking under balconies or windows or in the middle of a street while midnight strikes is quite dangerous. Find your place to enjoy the displays and stay there, particularly between midnight and 12:45AM!
Among the night’s events, you can count on concerts (some organised by the Mayor’s office, some part of a private event, some improvised) and dance parties. Locals who are not at a party dress up to the nines and like to walk from landmark to landmark, enjoying the beauty of Rome at night in the (usually!) cold December weather.
Again, we’re going to detail more December and New Year’s Eve events in the coming days, so keep watching this space! In the meantime, expect to find museums, shops and offices closed on January 1, and know that it will be difficult to catch buses, subway trains and even taxis!