merry christmas_maremma tuscany

I’ve been very chirpy about Christmas in the Maremma. Overbearingly, cloyingly, even painfully, chirpy about Christmas.

So I thought I would write one honest post about what it’s like to celebrate the holidays in Tuscany.

I come from a huge Italian family in Melbourne, Australia, but I’ve spent my fair share of Christmases with my husband’s family here in the Maremma.

My husband’s only relatives are his parents, so Christmas with them is the antithesis to the noisy, cousin and sibling-filled celebrations I’m used to, which leads me to this post.

Christmas on vacation always sounds like a great idea. You might, like me, be an expat, who doesn’t get the chance to go back home for Christmas, maybe this is the only time you can take a vacation or maybe spending Christmas with family is your idea of a nightmare like that movie with Reese Witherspoon.

Whatever your reason, the trick to not feeling sad and lonely is to embrace the traditions of where you’re staying.

For starters, spend Christmas Eve shopping. 24 December is not a holiday in Italy so all the shops are open. If this sounds like a trap, don’t worry, you won’t get caught in a last minute frenzy. That’s reserved for shopping centres. The boutique-filled streets of Follonica, Grosseto and Massa Marittima won’t be hectic, so you can snag a few last souvenirs without getting trampled.

christmas pyre_maremma_tuscany

There won’t be any festivals or events on 25 December, so catch them in the days before or after. One of my favourite festivities in the fiaccolata or burning pyres lit by various towns after dinner on Christmas Eve.

Not only will they keep you warm, but they’ll allow you to stay out late mingling and sipping mulled wine and chestnuts well into the early hours of Christmas Day.

If you’re Catholic and keen, mass in most churches starts at 10am on Christmas Day. Italians are mostly sporadic religious practitioners, but they always show up in droves on the holidays. If you want a seat, get in at least 30 minutes early.

Even if you don’t understand Italian, the service follows the same general lines as everywhere else in the world. Don’t be surprised if not everyone goes to communion. In Italy, it’s expected that you regularly confess or you can’t take part.

Make sure your hotel supplies breakfast on Christmas Day because a lot of bars will be closed. One of the things I like to do on Christmas Day when I’m away from family and friends is to treat myself to a fancy lunch. It’s a good idea to book ahead because most will be closed.

If you can swing it, head to one of our five Michelin restaurants otherwise pop by a restaurant that looks nice and ask.

There won’t be any public transport on Christmas Day and all the shops, entertainment and attractions will be closed, so the day can drag if you’re not careful.

Buy yourself a panetone or panforte to feast on in the afternoon in your hotel room and if you’re lucky enough to be near a DVD rental place, rent a DVD. Most agriturismo will have a DVD player they can lend you.

Otherwise take advantage of your surroundings and get out. The weather at the moment in most of the Maremma is extremely mild.

800px-Saturnia_Cascate_del_Mulino

You can go to the Cascate del Mulino hot springs in Saturnia, which will be free and relatively empty on Christmas.

You can walk through the nature parks in Monte Amiata. See the Apennine wolves in the Monte Labbro national park or visit David Lazzaretti’s ruined church.

You can take a walk around Massa Marittima’s Lago del Accesa and see the Etruscan ruins or maybe even take a dip in the 20°C (68°F) water. Or spend the day exploring the Parco della Maremma national park near Grosseto.

Save the towns and cities for the evening. It’s tradition for Italians to go on an after-lunch stroll, so you won’t be alone as you admire the lights in town. My top pick for lights is Massa Marittima.

With Christmas done and dusted, the festivals kick into high gear. Don’t forget to check out my events page to see what’s on Boxing Day (26 December) and have a safe and very happy holiday!

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