Where Santa takes a gondola to town…
How does Santa come to Venice? On a gondola, of course!
While the splendor of St. Peter’s Basilica on Christmas Eve is arguably the time and place most associated with Italy during holiday time, other cities and towns celebrate the season in their own ways, some old, some new, like the Venetian edition this year.
A fresh initiative called ”My Venice Christmas” has solidly put the Lagoon City on the Italian Christmas treat map. The heart of the celebration is the ”sestiere” or district of Dorsoduro, one of Venetian’s most inviting sections to explore, as it lies between part of the meandering Grand Canal and the much wider Giudecca Canal. In Italy, the Christmas period ends on Jan. 6, the Catholic feast day of the Epiphany, commonly known as the feast of the Three Wise Men. But in Italy, Jan. 6 is the day of the Befana, the broom-riding witch who brings children who behave treats and those who don’t lumps of charcoal. So “My Christmas Venice” runs from early December through Jan. 7.
For three weekends, in the late 17th-century Zenobio Palace there will be a holiday market place. Also on tap is entertainment, including dance and performance and workshops such as Venetian mask-making. Just strolling Venice at night is joyous, as the shimmering reflection of holiday lights strung above the canals between tiny streets render a walk even more enchanting. Gospel and pop concerts are among the offerings.
Most of the merry-making takes place in the area roughly running between two of Dorsoduro’s main landmarks, notably the Accademia gallery of art treasures and the domed, 17th-century basilica, Santa Maria della Salute, at the very tip of the sestiere.
The brainchild of a hotelier in the Dorsoduro district, “My Venice Christmas” is billed as a ”first edition,” so it is worth keeping in mind for future trips to Italy at holiday time.
Of course, every town and for that matter just about every church in Italy makes a show of its Nativity, or creche, scene, so many Italians, especially with children, duck into local churches for a sampling of the local creativity.
And if you happen to be in the vicinity of Bologna, the eve and evening of Epiphany, giant straw puppets some three stories tall are set ablaze in a roaring bonfire to the delight of spectators in the countryside of San Matteo della Decima. Instead near St. Agata Bolognese, fireworks and music accompany the Befana bonfire.