As the holiday season approaches, a lot of us start to think about where we will spend Christmas this year. If you're like one of us and are looking for a festive destination that's off the beaten path, consider Puglia. This charming region in the heel of Italy's boot is usually known for its beautiful beaches, historic towns, and delicious cuisine. But during the Christmas season, Puglia comes alive with colourful lights, lively markets, and unique traditions. This is definitely one of the best ways to look at enjoying Christmas because of how decked up the city is!
Weather in Puglia in December
The best time to visit Puglia is during the winter months, from December to February. The weather is mild, with temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to low 60s. While it may be too chilly for a swim in the sea, the cooler temperatures make it the perfect time to explore the region's historic towns and cities without the crowds of tourists that flock to Puglia in the summer.
Puglia's Christmas Traditions:
Christmas is a special time in Puglia, and the region has several unique traditions that you won't find anywhere else in Italy. Here are some of the fun Christmas traditions of the region that you can participate in on your visit to the region:
One of the most popular traditions is the "Presepe Vivente," or living nativity scene. These elaborate displays feature actors dressed in period costumes, recreating the scene of the birth of Jesus in a stable. The Presepe Vivente can be found in towns and cities throughout Puglia, and they're a must-see if you're visiting during the Christmas season.
Listen to the music of the Zampognari
Another popular tradition is the "Zampognari," or bagpipers. These musicians travel from town to town, playing traditional Christmas carols on their bagpipes. The Zampognari are a common sight in Puglia during the holiday season, and their music adds to the festive atmosphere.
Taste the famous Cartellate
Food is also an important part of Christmas in Puglia. One of the most popular dishes is "cartellate," which is fried dough strips flavoured with honey, wine, and cinnamon. These sweet treats are shaped like roses and are a staple of Christmas dinner in Puglia. Another favourite is "struffoli," which are fried dough balls coated in honey and sprinkled with colourful candies. If you have a sweet tooth, you'll definitely want to try these traditional Puglian desserts.
How to Spend Christmas in Puglia?
If you're planning to spend Christmas in Puglia, there are plenty of things to see and do. Here are some of the top attractions that you won't want to miss:
Visit the Christmas markets
Puglia is known for its lively Christmas markets, which are held in towns and cities throughout the region. Here you'll find an array of festive decorations, artisanal crafts, and local delicacies.
There are various little Christmas markets in Puglia where you may purchase one-of-a-kind presents, seasonal accents, and local fare.
Here are a handful of Puglia's top Christmas markets that you should definitely pay a visit to!
Ostuni Christmas Market
In the Piazza della Libertà, the town of Ostuni holds a delightful Christmas market with handcrafted goods, food, and live entertainment. You can visit the market on weekends throughout the month of December.
Martina Franca Christmas Market
In its historic city centre, the town of Martina Franca holds a Christmas market with vendors selling handcrafted items, food, and traditional Christmas treats. Normally, the market is open from the first of December to the first of January.
Alberobello Christmas Market
Trulli, or rustic stone houses with conical roofs, are a notable feature of the charming hamlet of Alberobello. The town organises a market selling locally produced goods and homemade gifts during the holiday season. You may discover a variety of vendors offering anything from Christmas decorations to traditional meals and sweets at the market, which is held in Piazza del Popolo.
Trani Christmas Market
In the Piazza della Repubblica, the town of Trani holds a Christmas market with vendors selling regional cuisine, handicrafts, and seasonal decorations. Throughout December, the market is normally open on weekends.
Bari Christmas Market
In its ancient city centre, the city of Bari holds a decorative Christmas market with vendors selling holiday décor, handicrafts, and regional fare. Normally, the market is open from the first of December to the first of January.
Lecce Christmas Market
In the Piazza Sant'Oronzo, the city of Lecce holds a Christmas market with vendors selling homemade goods, toys, and food. A sizable ice skating rink and a kids' Santa's Grotto are also available at the market. Typically, the market is open from early December through early January.
Attend a Presepe Vivente
The Presepe Vivente is a traditional Nativity scene that comes to life throughout the holiday season in several places. The Presepe Vivente custom is observed in numerous towns and villages all across Puglia.
A living nativity scene that depicts the first Christmas is called the Presepe Vivente. The Holy Family, shepherds, wise men, and other Biblical figures are represented by actors and volunteers dressed in period garb for the occasion. You're welcome to wander through the scenes, which have been set up in the town or village's streets and public areas, and witness the narrative of Jesus' birth.
The Presepe Vivente custom has been practised in Puglia for many years and has a long cultural and historical heritage there. Every town or hamlet celebrates the custom distinctively, and some have even won on a national and international level for the art of their works.
The festivities in Alberobello, Faggiano, Locorotondo, Tricase, Fasano, Ostuni, Rutigliano, and Pezze di Greco are among the most noteworthy ones.
Take a cooking class or taste the Puglian desserts
Puglia is renowned for its delicious cuisine, so what better way to get into the Christmas spirit than by learning how to cook some traditional Puglian dishes? Sign up for a cooking class and learn how to make cartellate, struffoli, and other festive treats.
But if you're more into tasting and eating, head to the bakeries for a taste of the authentic Puglian delicacies.
Like many other Italian regions, Puglia has a long tradition of making festive treats that are eaten around Christmas.
Here are a few of the traditional Puglian Christmas desserts:
These are thin dough strips that are fried before being rolled into a knot or spiral. They are then covered in powdered sugar and sprinkled with honey, syrup, or vincotto (cooked wine). In Puglia, cartellate is a popular Christmas delicacy that is frequently offered with a glass of dessert wine.
Small, round biscuits baked with flour, sugar, olive oil, and sweet wine are known as purceddhruzzi. After baking, they are covered in honey or sugar syrup and embellished with sprinkles or nonpareils in various colours.
These are little fried dough balls composed of mashed potatoes, yeast, and flour. They're frequently served with powdered sugar or honey on top.
These cookies are flavoured with spices and prepared with almonds, chocolate, and honey. They are frequently sliced into festive shapes and sprinkled or iced with icing.
Explore the historic towns
Puglia is home to many beautiful towns and cities, each with its own unique character and charm. Visit the town of Ostuni, known as the "White City" for its whitewashed buildings, or wander the narrow streets of the historic town of Polignano a Mare. You'll be impressed by how decorative the city turns during Christmas!
Attend Midnight Mass
Attending Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is a tradition in Italy, and Puglia is no exception. Many churches throughout the region hold special services, and attending one is a great way to experience the local culture and traditions.
Visit the beach
While it may be too cold for swimming, Puglia's beaches are still worth a visit during the winter months. Take a stroll along the shore and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere and stunning views.
You can arrange a wonderful picnic on the beachfront and have an alternate Christmas celebration anywhere from the popular Polignano a Mare to the breathtaking sandy beaches of Gallipoli. In general, December in Puglia is nice, with temperatures exceeding 15 °C, especially in the south. You can be lucky with the weather. Consider Puglia as one of Europe's top locations for seeking out the winter sun!
Paper mâché in Lecce
The papier-mâché artwork in Lecce is well known. The city has a long history with papier-mâché, which was first practised there in the 17th century by regional artisans. By layering strips of paper saturated in a paste composed of water and glue over a mould or armature, objects are created in this type of art. The finished products might be anything from modest ornamental pieces to substantial sculptures.
Paper mâché has developed into a significant aspect of the local culture in Lecce, and numerous artists and workshops focus on the technique. The area is particularly well-known for its elaborate and vibrant papier-mâché puppets, which are utilised in "pupi" or "pupi leccesi," or traditional street theatre productions.
The city hosts the "Fiera dei Pupi'' (Fair of the Puppets) at Christmas time. The fair, which celebrates the regional speciality of paper-mâché puppets, draws a lot of people from all around Italy and abroad.
The old city of Lecce is converted into a bustling marketplace with dozens of kiosks selling puppets of all shapes and sizes during the fair, which typically runs from late November to early January. Everything from tiny, straightforward puppets to intricate, handcrafted objects that are several feet tall can be found there!
Visit the Santa Claus House in Candela, Foggia
A distinctive and endearing landmark in the town of Candela, which is situated in the province of Foggia, is The Santa House in Candela. The home, sometimes referred to as Casa di Babbo Natale in Italian, is a festive display that honours the wonder and enchantment of Christmas.
During the Christmas season, the Santa House, which is situated in Candela's historic district, is accessible to the general public. You will discover an enchanted winter wonderland inside, complete with glittering lights, seasonal accents, and vibrant displays. A room devoted to Santa's workshop, where you can see his elves hard at work creating toys for kids, is one of many that are arranged to reflect various scenes from Christmas legends.
The longest Christmas ever is celebrated in Taranto! Christmas celebrations in Taranto start on November 22nd when a marching band plays all night long through the streets! Their songs appear to have been inspired by the bagpipe music of the Abruzzo shepherds who came to Taranto with their flocks and played in the city's alleyways for food in exchange. The 22nd of November is also referred to as the "frying day" since they were paid in pettole in exchange for their song. According to legend, this custom originated from the mistake of a housewife who, after kneading dough, became preoccupied with the band performing outside. She put the dough into the heating oil when she got home because it was no longer suitable for making bread. Her children were ecstatic about the flavour of the fried balls, which she dubbed "pettole" in honour of pitta, the Greek word for "little focaccia."
Visit the Shrine of Padre Pio - Puglia's beloved Saint
Many people from the region travel to Puglia at this time of year to visit San Giovanni Rotondo, a popular destination for Catholic pilgrims. One of the most significant shrines in the region, Padre Pio's grave is located in this town.
If you're spending the winter in Puglia, you should definitely pay this sacred location a visit. Every year, pilgrims come to pay their respects. Padre Pio is one of Italy's most venerated saints and was recognized for his miracles.
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