Christmas 2020 celebration in Vatican City

Christmas in Vatican City

Vatican City comes alive at Christmastime, with special masses and gatherings in celebration of the birth of Christ. Typically, a midnight mass is held on Christmas Eve inside St. Peter’s Basilica. Christmas Day features an event at noon, when onlookers converge at St. Peter’s Square to listen to Benedict recite a holiday reading from his perch on the basilica’s central balcony. The schedule for this season’s events has not yet been released. gives a rundown of Christmas happenings all over Italy. At Christmastime in St. Peter’s Square, a “big screen TV” is set up, allowing gathered crowds to see the midnight mass live. In addition, a massive Christmas tree and accompanying nativity scene are set up inside the square.

Midnight Mass With The Pope & Christmas Day In Rome

If you are going to spend Christmas Eve & Christmas Day in Rome, you may feel a little lonely.  Everyone is with their family or makign Christmas preparations, shops, businesses and some tourist sites are closed.  So what can you do in Rome on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?

Fear not, we are here to help you understand that Rome is full of things to do at Christmas – many of which are totally free!  Take a look at 5 of our suggestions below:

1. Remember and Visit Where It All Began

Christmas is a Christian feast.  Christ is at the centre of Christmas.  Christ is at the centre of the Church (indeed IS the Church) and Rome is also at the heart of the Church.

To celebrate Christmas Day in Rome is particularly profound and apt. People often talk about St Francis of Assisi creating the first nativity scene in the Italian town of Greccio.  However, it is more accurate to remember that Rome was the first recorded place in Italy to set a place apart to contemplate the nativity.

By 432 AD, Rome had it’s own and earliest recorded nativity scene.  Pope Sixtus III (the 44th pope) hollowed out a special nativity cave in the heart of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

He did this to place the pieces of wood that tradition held was part of the Crib of Christ – the cot in which Mary lay him as a baby.

To this day, you can go into the Basilica and in the centre there is a small underground chapel containing a large silver reliquary that itself contains the wood of the Crib.

Why not begin your Christmas journeying to Santa Maria Maggiore and this small underground chapel and consider what Christmas is all about.

At the time of the Jewish festival of light, with the light of the star guiding the wise men to Christ, we find in the dark, underground cave of the animal stable of Bethlehem, that a new light has been born.  A baby who would grow into the man called the Light of the World, the Divine Sun who sets us free from darkness and the shadow of death.

In our own lives, our own darkness, are Mary & Joseph knocking on the door of your heart asking if there is room for Jesus to be born there?  What will you say?  Do you have any room?

2. Midnight Mass With The Pope On Christmas Eve

Each Christmas, the successor of St Peter, celebrates Mass at the Basilica of St Peter as the Vigil Mass of Christmas.  Traditionally celebrated at midnight, this year the Mass will begin at 9:15pm.

Unfortunately, tickets for this event are usually reserved months in advance by those who planned ahead and therefore if you dont have a ticket now, it’s highly unlikely that you will be able to get in.

However, don’t worry, the Vatican will broadcast the Mass on jumbo screens in St Peter’s Square and thousands come to watch it out in the crisp night air.  The atmosphere is always very special and it is a great and unique experience of the dawn of Christmas.

3. Christmas Day & “Urbi et Orbi”

If you missed your chance of seeing the pope on Christmas Eve, dont fret, you can also see him on Christmas Day.

At noon each Christmas Day, the Pope gives his annual “Urbi et Orbi” speech (which means “To The City [of Rome] and To The World”).  He will come to the balcony of St Peters and give a Christmas message to the world in addition to a plenary indulgence to all those who hear it!

Tickets are not required but the crowds are always large with Italians coming out as a family to hear the Pope’s speech.

4. See The Nativity Scenes

Many churches around the city will have taken great time and energy to set up elaborate nativity scenes that are well worth visiting.

The best scene is probably the life-size scene at the obelisk in the centre of St Peter’s Square, but many of the surrounding churches on Via della Concilazione also have nice scenes.

5. Christmas Markets

If truth be told, the Christmas Markets in Rome this year are a shambles.  The largest and most atmospheric of the markets was always held at Piazza Navona.  However, as a result of an ongoing battle between vendors and a controlling local authority / mayors office, it looks like this year it wont actually go ahead!

This is a great shame and typical of Italian in-fighting and politics.

It is rumoured however that the market at the Spanish Steps will however take up the slack so our advice is to go there.

6. Christmas In Rome Tour

Why not amalgamate lots of these ideas and see the main sights of Rome too on our Christmas In Rome Tour.  You will get to do lots of these ideas and we’re committed to helping you to have the happiest Christmas yet!

What else can you think of doing?  Put your suggestions in the comments section below….

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