Christmas in Italy is a serious affair. First and foremost, there is no shame in saying “Merry Christmas.” This is after all a Catholic country. On a related note, the real star of the show is the baby Jesus. You’ll see him in every house in town. That jolly bearded guy in the red suit? He’s an afterthought, if he’s thought of at all. In Milan (and pretty much all Italian cities), the streets are transformed into a glorious holiday show—grandly garlanded with twinkling lights, evergreen wreaths, bows and balls. And to pay their respects to the splendor of it all, elegant Milanese ladies upgrade their outerwear to an old-school mink, as they glide around town.
Not surprisingly, a great many of the particularities of an Italian Christmas revolve around food. For instance, every meal in the month of December includes a golden, fruit-studded panettone and a block of torrone, a sticky hard nougat filled with nuts. In the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, pasta is served daily. (There is always fresh fruit around, but it’s typically being utilized in a centerpiece that’s worthy of a Renaissance master.) And on New Year’s Eve, the menu is unfailingly the rich and hearty dish of lentils with cotechino sausage. It may seem heavy after a week of pasta, but it’s believed to bring in money for the new year so…perhaps the diet starts in January?
Whether you are in Milan or #LivingLikeAnItalian vicariously through the internet, we’ve created a helpful guide to our favorite places (and websites!), where you can get everything from gorgeously OTT ornaments to your daily dose of panettone and fruit that would have inspired Caravaggio himself.
Walking into this jewel box of a shop is like stumbling into a czarina’s cupboard, stacked with exquisite colored glass all finished in lacy gold trim. Their selection of ornaments is nothing short of dreamy—with prices to match. For further festivity, pick up some of their equally regal goblets to toast to the year ahead.
Via Montenapoleone, 22, 20121; 02 7600 879; vetreriediempoli.it
Not everything about an Italian holiday needs to be over-the-top. This shop, opened by architect and designer Paolo Tilche in 1955, provides the city’s design community with sleekly modernist votives and vases for their Christmas tables. Consider it an aesthetic breath of fresh air.
Via della Moscova, 22, 20121; 02 655 469; arform.it
This 83-year-old pasticceria is traditional in every way. That includes how they make their panettone, the domed sweet bread studded with dried fruit and raisins that’s an Italian holiday staple. Cucchi’s is made with natural yeast, called lievito madre, that requires delicate handling. The effort is worth it; their artisanal version is head and shoulders above the rest. Bonus: When you shop at Cucchi this Christmas, you’ll see La DoubleJ’s patterntastic takeover!
Corso Genova, 1, 20123; 02 8940 9793
The Milanese do their entertaining at home so it’s imperative to have an impeccable source for hostess gifts. Enter Marchesi. Their chocolates are exquisitely good, and they come packaged in the dreamiest pastel palette with just the right touch of gold trim.
Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 20121; 02 9418 1710
Via Santa Maria alla Porta, 11/a, 20123; 02 862770; pasticceriamarchesi.com
Utterly old-school and flawless in presentation, Peck deserves a visit whether you’re shopping for your at-home aperitivo spread or not—especially during the holidays. However, if you are shopping for perfect festive ready-made-splendor, look no further than their salatini, meats and cheeses.
Via Spadari 9, 20123; 02 802 3161; peck.it
This 62-year-old grocer sells meat, cheese, wine, homemade ice cream, and they can even source you a rare-in-Italy turkey. However, its ‘Orchard’ section is truly a thing of wonder—where Caravaggio might have sent his apprentice to pick up perfectly picturesque mandarins, pomegranates and grapes. It’s ideal for Italians who have a penchant for luxurious displays of fruit during the Christmas season.
Corso Italia, 40, 20121; 02 864 52 554
An historic destination—open for more than a century!—near the center of Milan, Drogheria Radrizzani is an excellent one-stop shop for a whole host of holiday needs. Their Pugliese taralli are tops; their selection of wine, champagne and liquor is excellent; and there is a veritable cornucopia of biscuits and the brightly wrapped chocolates that Italians love to place in bowls around their homes come December.
Viale Piave, 20, 20129; 02 7602 3119; radrizzani.it
Located in the city center (Brera), the family-owned spot has been a wonderland of alcohol since 1952. You can find everything you need to make the season a bit brighter, including prosecco, champagne, wine and every kind of liquor.
Via Solferino, 42, 20121; 02 2900 1096; enotecacotti.it
This isn’t a fancy candle brand with cult scents. Rather, it’s the spot to pick up decorative candles for your centerpieces, mantels and other festive lighting needs. They have a rainbow of cylinders and tapers—both smooth and in the twisty torchon variety—along with tealights, festively hued ball-shaped candles and more.
Viale Monte Nero, 65, 20135; 02 545 6507; bugiedicera.com