Spending a few days in Venice is always a great idea, even outside the usual spring and summer dates. The month of December, for example, not only offers visitors the usual attractions of the city, but they will also be able to enjoy activities that do not occur at other times of the year.
If you decide to travel to Venice in December you will find a city changed by the beauty of winter. Its squares, streets and parks are filled with Christmas atmosphere from almost the beginning of the month, which mixed with the romantic touch of winter light, totally changes the experience there.
1. Feast of the Immaculate Conception
On December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated in Venice, as in the rest of the Catholic world. In the Italian city this feast is also known as the Feast of the Lady of Fire and, in addition to religious celebrations, it is commemorated with numerous activities in the streets, squares and parks.
The most common and what you can join if you are in Venice on those dates are the processions and festivities that take place outside. In many places stalls with traditional food are set up and it is customary to open new wines and drink them accompanied by sweets. If you know how to get around Venice, I advise you to try to experience this day in different places to know how it is lived in each neighborhood.
Although they are similar to those celebrated in other parts of the world, if you are religious or if you want to live the experience in an incomparable setting, you can also attend one of the many masses that take place that day in the extraordinary churches that dot the city.
Joaquín's Traveller Tip:
Don't forget that this is a non-working day throughout the country, so you may find quite a few things closed. However, restaurants and most tourist attractions are usually open.
2. Spend the Vigil di Natale (Christmas Eve) almost like a Venetian
Since it gets dark quite early at this time of the year, the Christmas Eve festivities startearly. On that day, I recommend you to go to St. Mark's Square after dark, where some choirs liven up the evening. They usually play Christmas music, although sometimes they surprise with more modern compositions. Despite the dates, the place is usually full of tourists who mingle with the locals.
The next step of the tour is to approach the area where the Rialto Bridge is located. There you will find a large number of bars and inexpensive restaurants that are filling up with people as the hours go by. Soak up the atmosphere and order a glass of wine and some food before the bars close.
The speed of eating is due to the fact that Venetians retire to their homes at dinnertime and the city empties out during that time. Custom dictates that a big dinner be held and, although it is now disappearing, the tradition was to invite a bachelor who has no family there to share it with him. Who knows, maybe you'll get lucky and it will be your turn.
The night doesn't end with that dinner. After it, many Venetians and tourists go to the Midnight Mass. The best place is undoubtedly St. Mark's Basilica, but if you don't arrive in plenty of time it will be impossible to find a seat. Alternatively, this mass is also celebrated in almost every church in the city.
3. Find the best Nativity Scenes on St. Stephen's Day
After a more intimate and familiar day like Christmas in Venice, Venetians take to the streets again to celebrate St. Stephen's Day, on December 26. On that day you can join them by going to the theaters that usually program plays for that day, to the concerts that take place in the churches or, most traditionally, admiring the nativity scenes.
With the Christmas markets at their peak, the best thing you can do that day is to stroll through the streets of the city. In many of its corners you will find fabulous nativity scenes, although possibly none like the one that has been installed in the lagoon itself for some years.
Unfortunately, the installation has not always been successful, as it has been destroyed by bad weather and by the acqua alta. However, if you are fortunate enough to be able to see it, I strongly advise you to do so.
It is a nativity scene composed of 62 figures, all made of plywood. The assembly is done by means of wooden stakes that are nailed to the bottom of the lagoon and the set occupies a length of 150 meters. To see it, you just have to go to a place overlooking the island of Burano or the island itself.
On the other hand, the feast of St. Stephen (San Stefano in Italian) is celebrated with special intensity in the churches of the city that venerate the saint.
Another possibility to take advantage of that day is to go to St. Mark's Basilica to contemplate a work of art that is only exhibited during Christmas. It is a painting by Tiepolo called The Adoration of the Child and is located in the sacristy of the basilica.
4. Dare to celebrate Hanukkah in the old ghetto
If you go to the old Jewish ghetto in early or mid-December, illuminated at sunset by a large menorah, you will be able to participate in the festivities that take place there. Joining in these celebrations will be one of the best ways to enjoy the night in Venice. The whole neighborhood comes alive and is filled with live music and dancing.
Although Venice, like the rest of Italy, is a city where Catholicism has a great weight, you can also find celebrations of other confessions. A good example is Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday that takes place during eight days and, above all, its nights.
This ghetto is considered the oldest segregated Jewish quarter in the world and, although the Jewish population of the city has been reduced to about 500 people, it still preserves the old traditions. In addition to the aforementioned holidays, religious ceremonies also take place in the synagogues that still exist.
As it could not be less in a celebration in Venice, food also has its place in Hanukkah. Thus, during the holidays a wide variety of kosher food, prepared according to the requirements of Judaism, is offered. You will also be able to buy various types of sweets.
The old Venetian ghetto is located in the Cannaregio district, the largest in the city. This neighborhood extends from the Grand Canal and the lagoon, bordering the sestiere of San Marco. In addition to joining the locals in the festivities, I recommend you stroll through its streets and contemplate such interesting attractions as the Palazzo Ca d'Oro or the church of Madonna dell'Orto.
5. Stroll and shop at the Christmas market of Campo Santo Stefano
Party, music, food and Christmas atmosphere go hand in hand in one of the most famous Christmas markets in Venice, Santo Stefano. If you travel in December, you should not forget to visit it and join the Venetians in all the activities.
During Christmas in Venice there are several markets where you can immerse yourself in the atmosphere of these dates. The biggest one is the one held in Campo Santo Stefano, very close to the very interesting Palazzo Grassi, which you may have seen if you have hired a private tour. In this market you will find about 30 wooden huts offering all kinds of local products, including food.
One of the differences between this market and other similar ones is precisely the origin of the products sold. In Santo Stefano, locally made products are the most popular, many of them handmade. In its stalls you will find everything from toys to pieces for nativity scenes, Venetian carnival masks and decorations made with Murano glass.
In addition to shopping, if you go to the market you will be able to enjoy a large number of activities. All of them washed down with the best drinks and accompanied by traditional dishes and live music.
6. Farewell the year at the Festa di San Silvestro (New Year's Eve)
The Venetian New Year's Eve also joins the Festa di San Silvestro (St. Sylvester's Eve). To say goodbye to the year you will be able to choose between the two big parties held in the city, in St. Mark's Square and Piazza Ferretto del Mestre.
Of course, Venetians do not lose sight of their most famous festival, the carnival, even on New Year's Eve. For this reason, do not be surprised if you see many people in the square wearing the typical Venetian masks or in costume. If you are up for it, look for some kind of costume to join the festivities.
On the other hand, in both squares there is no shortage of drinks, food and fireworks. Specifically, in San Marcos there is a countdown to welcome the new year followed by spectacular fireworks.
Joaquin's Traveller Tip:
the tradition in Italy to say goodbye to the year is to eat lentils. If you want to feel like a Venetian, don't hesitate to participate in this custom.
7. Escape to Murano to experience the Natale di Vetro (Glass Night)
If you have traveled to Venice in December there is a nearby destination you can not miss, Murano. At this time, the island is a must, because for a whole month becomes the capital of beauty made of glass. In addition, there is no shortage of music concerts and exhibitions.
The Natale di Vetro celebrates the art that has made Murano a locality known throughout the world: the manufacture of glass. The event begins on December 5 with a Mass in honor of St. Nicholas, patron saint of glassblowers. From that day and for a whole month, the squares and streets of the island are filled with glass sculptures and demonstrations of live blowing by artisans.
If you are very interested, you can also go to one of the most important factories of Murano glass and see how the great masters of glass work. Children also have their space, as free workshops are offered to learn to blow this material.
One of the highlights of this celebration is the so-called Tunnel of Lights. In this event, artisans place ten candelabras made specifically for Christmas in the ancient portico of the cloister of San Pietro. The effect is absolutely breathtaking and I assure you that you will be left with your mouth open and with little desire to leave the place.
8. Do you have a sweet tooth? Don't miss Il Paese di Cioccolato
From the beginning of December and for almost a month, as the event usually lasts until the first week of January, adults and children can enjoy at Il Paese di Cioccolato the tasting of numerous recipes made with chocolate, as well as musical performances, children's entertainment and circus performers.
These activities take place near Venice, less than an hour away by public transport, in the town of Jesolo. There, during the month of December, a real chocolate village appears for the enjoyment of chocolate lovers.
The specific place is the Piazzetta Casabianca, where artisans and master chocolatiers set up about 10 beautifully decorated white wooden houses to offer their products.
9. Taste the best panettone
If there is one sweet that defines winter in Venice (especially when December arrives) it is panettone. No one who is in the city at that time should miss it to discover the authentic recipe of this sweet. Its popularity will make you find it in every store and in many cafes and restaurants.
This pastry is ubiquitous during the festive season throughout Italy, but many Venetians claim that none comes close to their way of making it. The inside is filled with a mixture of candied orange, raisins and lemon zest, although almost every family has their own tricks.
In case you're not convinced by panettone, there's another popular sweet typical of Venetian Christmas: torrone. It can be said to be the Italian equivalent of nougat and comes in various flavors and textures. In Venice there are four different specialties that are sure to delight you.
10. Let yourself be enveloped in the Venetian fog
Although it already happens in November, it is in December when the fog appears in Venice in a more usual way. Normally, it is a fog that envelops the canals early in the morning, completely changing the appearance of its streets. Instead of waiting for it to disappear, my advice is to take the opportunity to go out and let yourself be enveloped by the almost ghostly atmosphere of the city.
In addition to simply strolling around, there are some sights that almost get better under these circumstances. Thus, few more magical visions can be contemplated than the domes of St. Mark's Basilica appearing in the mist. Buy a hot chocolate or a good espresso and sit on a terrace to enjoy the view.
Riding a gondola under the blankets provided by the gondoliers in the mist is another unforgettable experience. The shape of bridges like the Bridge of Sighs blurs and blends with the fog, as do the nearby mansions.
Venice weather in December
One of the major concerns of travelers planning to visit Venice in December is the weather.
In principle, it is one of the coldest periods of the year, with an average temperature that does not rise above 9º. Lows, meanwhile, can drop to just 1° on average. On the other hand, rainy days are not uncommon.
What to pack for Venice in December
The weather in Venice in December makes it necessary to pack warm clothes. A thick jacket is a must, as well as sweaters, gloves and a scarf. It is also important that the jacket is waterproof.
On the other hand, you should not forget an umbrella, as well as waterproof but comfortable shoes or boots.
Tourist crowds in Venice in December
The cold, the shorter days and, above all, the lack of cruise ships mean that tourism in Venice decreases noticeably in the month of December. You are likely to find crowds at some major Christmas events, but most of the attendees will be Venetians or from other parts of Italy.
Among the advantages of this situation is that you will be able to see the city in a much more comfortable way, without the endless queues of the summer.