Christmas in Venice
While Venice can sometimes seem stuffed with tourists, especially in the warmer months, at Christmas time it is much more about the locals and you will discover the sweet and gentle side of the city. The sight of Santa bringing Christmas treats to the children via gondola is one that will stay with you.
Midnight mass at St Mark’s Basilica
Even if you are not the religious type you cannot fail to be moved by the striking beauty of the Basilica at night. The mass actually starts at 10.30pm and it is a good idea to arrive early to get a seat. It is free to get in but if you can use the less frequented North entrance for less of a squeeze.
Campo San Stefano Christmas Market
A tiny chunk of Germany in this warm Mediterranean city is the main Christmas Market at Campo San Stefano. Even if you have already done all your Christmas shopping it is worth a wander for the amazing food stalls at one end.
Many of the city’s churches hold free concerts over the Christmas period and you should see posters advertising them all over Venice. One not to miss is that at Frari Church in San Polo at 4pm, it is worth having a nose inside the church as it has some magnificent art including Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin and Canova’s Tomb. Make sure you wrap up well though as inside the churches it can get quite chilly.
We probably don’t need to tell you that you will need to book ahead if you want a proper sit down dinner on Christmas Day. That said many restaurants will be open. Bear in mind that winter is often foggy in Venice and you could miss out on some of the beautiful views some places advertise. As you would expect, most locals will hole up in their houses for Christmas Day, apart from going to mass, so you are likely to have the city to yourself!
No Santa Please We’re Italian
You will probably notice a distinct scarcity of Father Christmas figures around Venice during the Christmas season. There is a good reason for this, as Italy is a strongly catholic country it was thought by the powers that be that Santa was a bit too pagan to be much celebrated. So it was decided to employ another tradition where a witch named Befana delivered the presents to children on Epiphany, which is the 5th January. So you will notice the prevalence of this apparently less offensive Christmas symbol dotted around the city.
New Year’s Day Swim
If your stay extends to the New Year then not only will you get to spend New Year’s Eve at St Mark’s Square (one huge party Venice style) and the amazing fireworks show to finish off the year, but you can also watch the crazy New Year’s Day swim. Hundreds of people gather at the Lido take part in a traditional Viennese waltz and then take a dip in the sea. You will see people of all ages enjoying this mad tradition.