What to Expect: Romans erect elaborate presepi (Nativity scenes) across the city, from life-size tableaux on the Spanish Steps and before St. Peter's to countless crèches in church chapels, all populated by papier-mâché or terracotta figurines and most with a pizza parlor tucked between the shops of the Bethlehem backdrop. Market action centers in Rome on Piazza Navona, its Bernini fountains surrounded by stalls hawking toys, handmade presepio figures, carnival games of chance, ciambelle (dinner plate-size doughnuts), and 101 variations on peanut brittle.
Look For: "La Befana," the Christmas witch, who traditionally brings Italian children presents on Epiphany in early January. These days, broomstick-mounted Befanas swaddled in black jostle for stall space with jolly red-and-white Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) dolls, and in many Italian households Santa now brings presents on Dec. 25 and La Befana brings more a couple weeks later.
Dates: Early Dec.–early Jan.