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Christmas tree in Catania

Christmas in Sicily: holidays tips from a local travel designer

Have you ever considered spending your Christmas holidays in Sicily?! Visiting Sicily during Christmas time is a great choice for sure. Keep reading the article to explore all the advantages of planning your Christmas break in Sicily and live this festive season the Sicilian way!

Sicilian Christmas Ape, ©Antonella Ravidà

As a Sicilian Travel Designer, I can only say that Sicily has its unique magic during Christmas time. It is because of the weather typically being still warm enough to stay outside all day long, it is because of the many twinkling lights  – “luminarie” – you find in each town of the island, it is because of the delicious Sicilian Christmas recipes we love to cook in our houses…no matter how many reasons, Christmas in Sicily is great!

Christmas decorations in Taormina, ©Antonella Ravidà

The average temperatures in Sicily in December are 7° C (44.6°F) in the morning/evening and up till 20° C (68°F) during the day (it is not uncommon to get a few sunny days at 25° C -41°F-)!).

Is Sicily warm at Christmas? These warm temperatures are incredibly helpful for sightseeying activities, day excursions, outdoor sport activities and even beach mornings for the bravest travellers.

Usually, it does not rain a lot in Sicily during Christmas time, of course being winter it is possible to get 1 or 2 rainy days but not so often.

As you may know, in Sicily we have coastal destinations, such as Catania, Siracusa, Palermo or Trapani but also cities and villages in higher altitudes such as Erice or Nicolosi, where you would find lower temperatures but never too freezing. Mount Etna volcano is usually covered in soft snow in December, making it a unique natural landscape.

Snow on top of Mt Etna, ©Antonella Ravidà

Isn’t the good weather a good enough reason for you to come to Sicily during the Christmas holidays? Then discover the other excellent reasons for a holiday in Sicily at Christmas.

If you love discovering the local traditions of the places you travel to, then experiencing Christmas in Sicily is the right choice for you. As you may know, this splendid island is a popular destination for tourists especially in summer, thanks to the sun and the crystalline sea.

However, visiting Sicily in winter, even more so during the Christmas holidays, gives you the opportunity to delve deeper into the true Sicilian culture. The Christmas period, in fact, is still low season in Sicily, so it is easy to get around without stress. Enjoy a chat with the elderly man at the bar, learn the secrets of pasta with the restaurant owner and, above all, participate to the many religious and folkloristic events that are organized during the Christmas weeks.

Teatro Massimo Palermo at Christmas,©Flickr

Some of the ancient but still very popular Christmas traditions in Sicily are:

Sicily is mostly a Christian region and the religious traditions are still strong (especially in the small inland villages but not only), which is why the tradition of making the Christmas nativity scene is very deep-rooted among Sicilians.

It is common for families to set up in their houses a small nativity scene together with the Christmas tree, and around the island, you will find many examples of handcrafted nativity scenes with attention to the smallest details. The most famous are those of Caltagirone, a city famous for the production of ceramics; here for centuries various examples of artistic nativity scenes have been displayed for the visitor on a journey through the churches and palaces of the city.

Living Crib, Presepe Vivente Cava d’Ispica, ©Antonella Ravidà

However, the main attraction of the Sicilian nativity scene is by far the living nativity scenes, real theatrical representations of the typical characters of the nativity scene, therefore the holy family, but above all of the characters of the old Sicilian crafts. The most beautiful living cribs in Sicily are, to name a couple, that of the Cave d’Ispica in the East part and that of Custonaci, in the West side.

When I was a child I remember bumping into the bagpipers in the street during the Christmas festivities. These men, always carring their big “zampogna” and blowing into it, playing Christmas songs in the streets, used to bring me straight into the Christmas cheerful spirit!

Nowadays in the big cities is less common to find those traditional musicians, however you will definitely find bagpipers in the smallest villages and sometimes in specific cultural events, such as this one in Catania.

Sicilian Christmas bagpiper playing in the street, ©Flickr

People from the east part of Sicily use to make a bonfire in front of the main churches on the Christmas Eve, as a symbol of rebirth. You can assist to this evocative Christmas tradition in cities such as Acireale (near Catania) or Giarre (ME).

One of the most common Sicilian Christmas tradition ever is evening card games. Playing cards after Sicilian Christmas dinner – with actual Sicilian cards – is a strong tradition. As a matter of fact, “giocata di carte” (card play), is often a way to catch up with friends and relatives on the holiday nights when, while playing, people eat Christmas food and exchange wishes.

Among the most famous card games “Tivitti”, “Cu cu” and of course “Tombola” (bingo).

Sicilian cards, ©Flickr

This is a very ancient Sicilian Christmas tradition which unfortunately has almost disappeared. It consists in decorating the small Christian votive altars you find in the streets, with citrus fruits, sweets and food decorations as a thanksgiving to the Lord and Saints.

Christmas ceramics decorations,©Antonella Ravidà

Does Sicily have Christmas markets? The answer is “yes, many!”

Even though Sicily has inherited the Christmas markets traditions from the further north countries, nowadays there are several lovely Christmas markets and Christmas villages in the island which are worth visiting during your Christmas holidays in Sicily!

In the Sicilian Christmas markets you will find various local specialties, such as pistachio creams or the classic Sicilian Torrone nougat, but also many local handicrafts and Christmas decorations, an excellent opportunity to buy some souvenirs!

The largest markets are those in Catania (Piazza Università or Palazzo Minoriti) and in Palermo (Parco Villa Filippina, Palazzo Pantelleria, Viale della Regione). It is worth mentioning the Christmas markets of Erice and Calatafimi-Segesta, but basically almost every Sicilian city has its own Christmas market not to be missed.

Get an idea of Christmas markets in Catania in my video here!

Christmas markets in Catania, ©Antonella Ravidà

One of the main reasons to choose Sicily as your Christmas holiday destination is of course for its amazing food. Sicilian cuisine is very much appreciated all over the world and you will definitely enjoy delicious meals all year round. Nevertherless, Sicilian Christmas recipes are perhaps the very best Sicilian food because of their variety and intense winter flavours.

Sicilian Cassata, ©Flickr

Let’s say it straight: Christmas in Sicily is all about food, get ready to eat all sort of food basically from 8th December (Immacolata Day) to 6th January (Epifania).

No kidding, we Sicilian can only celebrate this feast cooking and eating with friends and families. From the popular “arancine e cuccìa” on Saint Lucia’s Day (13th December), continuing with Christmas Eve’s dinner, Christmas lunch, Saint Stephen’s Day (26th December) where traditionally we spend the day out with friends, New Year’s Eve dinner party, Capodanno lunch (1st January) and Epifania on the 6th of January.

What is a traditional Christmas meal in Sicily? Given that every family and every city has its own food tradition for Christmas, Sicilians usually tend to eat “street food” traditional meals on the 24th December and a more complete menu for the Christmas lunch (fish or meat based). We do not celebrate in Sicily any seven fishes dinner as many Italian American do.

These are the most traditional Christmas meals in Sicily:

Scacciata or Scaccia: a tasty rustic pie filled with vegetables, cheese, sausage etc. Sicilian bakeries get hundreds of scacciata orders from people during Christmas Eve and also many families prepare their own homemade Scacciata. Have a look at my recipe here.

Baked Sicilian Scacciata,©Antonella Ravidà

Crispelle di ricotta o di acciughe (fried ricotta or anchovy balls): You can easily find this delicious dish in bakeries. In Catania and surroundings, the crispella filled with ricotta has a round shape whereas the anchovy one is longer. Sicilians eat crispelle as street food or finger food appetizer.

Anelletti di pasta al forno (baked pasta): this pasta dish is traditional from Palermo area and consists in ring shaped pasta dressed with bolognese sauce, cheese, fried aubergines, sausage, eggs etc cooked in oven.

Falso magro or polpettone (Sicilian stuffed meat roll): it is served usually as a second course on Christmas lunch, and it is a long veal meat roll filled with boiled eggs, spinach, cheese etc…can be served with tomato sauce or baked potatoes.

Baccalà (cod fish): This fish is very popular during the Christmas celebrations and there are several recipes, like fried baccalà or salad baccalà etc.

Torrone: The Sicilian “nougat” is made with Sicilian almonds and sugar. You find it in many candy stalls in the streets and in delicatessen shops.

Sicilian Torrone, ©Flickr

Panettone: Any Italian table has its Panettone at the end of the meal. In Sicily we have excellent artisanal Panettoni like the Panettone with Manna (typical from Madonie mountains) or Pistacho Panettone (produced in Bronte).

Cassata: Who doesn’t know Cassata Siciliana?! This ricotta cake is a must of any Sicilian celebrations, including Christmas!

If you are wondering what is the best place in Sicily for Christmas, you won’t get disappointed as there are many great destinations where to spend Christmas in Sicily.

The main big cities such as Palermo in the West part and Catania in the East side are for sure the perfect bases for your holidays in Sicily in December. The reason of this is that you find everything you might need during your stay; not only the usual attractions are open, but actually there are many special openings and events which take place deliberately during this time.

Moving away from the big cities, you can experience the most relaxed and authentic Christmas atmosphere, far from the Christmas shops. My advice is to take advantage of the winter season to discover a different Sicily. Take a hike on Etna, the highest active volcano in Europe when it is covered in snow – by the way: did you know that you can also ski on the volcano?!

Enjoy a walk in Taormina when it is not overrun by tourists or organize a day trip to one of the many farmhouses in Sicily to reconnect with nature and good food.

Catania at Christmas,©Antonella Ravidà

There are many outdoor activities that you can do in Sicily even in winter, for example a nice bike tour between the villages of Aci Trezza and Aci Castello. Or, a snowshoe hike on the Madonie. How about a splendid horseback ride along the beach?

If you prefer a slower pace, then enjoy a soft trek inside the Vendicari Nature Reserve, where you can also go birdwatching.

Cycling along the waterfront, Catania, ©Antonella Ravidà

Overall, Sicily at Christmas can be an endless discovery for those travelers who are keen to live this region in its winter dress, where amazing local food, religious events, Christmas lights and winter natural landscape will make you live a memorable holiday time.

Don’t be afraid, most tourist attractions are open all year round and you can easily visit them also in December and January (for detailed information, contact the ticket offices of each attraction).

I you liked this article, don’t keep it for yourself, please share it!

If you need assistance on your next holiday plans for Sicily (and Italy), I am a Sicilian Travel Designer and I cannot wait to hear from you about your holiday wishes!

Antonella
Antonella

Ciao! My name is Antonella and I am a Sicilian Travel Designer based in Catania, Sicily. My mission here is to share my knowledge and love for this amazing island of Southern Italy and to help you tailor your dream trip to Sicily.

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