2014 Christmas Markets in Milan

With the holiday season almost here, the time has come to think about exchanging gifts with friends and family and maybe decorating your apartment or dorm room with some festive trimmings.

As a predominately Catholic country, Italy celebrates the several important holidays in December and early January. In Milan, the season official kicks off on 7 December, the Feast of St. Ambrose, the patron saint of the city. That’s immediately followed by a national holiday on 8 December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Then of course Christmas is on the 25th, and the day after, St. Stephen’s Day, is also a holiday. Winter vacation usually ends right after 6 January, which celebrates the Epiphany.

So now that you know more about the calendar, you can understand why Christmas shopping usually revolves around 7-8 December: everyone has some extra time to think about presents and seasonal decorations! Milan may not be as famous for its Christmas markets as some other northern European cities, but the Milanese do enjoy taking part in some annual holiday shopping. Find out more below!

Crowds at holiday marketL’Artigiano in Fiera
This huge event has been hosted in Milan for almost 20 years – it seems to get bigger each year. With over 3,000 stands (!), you really need at least a full day –and a lot of stamina – to see everything. Your best bet is to make a game plan beforehand so you can hit the countries or Italian regions you’re most interested in. And don’t forget to come hungry: this market is also a great place to taste some good food from all over the world.
Open daily from 10am to 10:30pm through 8 December. Take the red line (MM1) to the Rho Fiera stop, but make sure you buy a €2.50 transport ticket since Rho is outside the city limits. Admission is free.

Fiera degli O’Bej O’Bej
This traditional market reportedly dates back to the 13th century. It’s held on and around the city’s saint’s day, 7 December, and lasts about one week. For the past few years, the market is located in Piazza Castello. Crafts and other items are on sale, as well as typical winter foods like chestnuts and sweets.
This year the market will be held from 5 to 8 December. Located at the Cairoli Castello stop on the subway (MM1).

Corsa dei Babbi Natale
On 13 December at 3:30pm, hundreds of people dressed up as Santa Claus will take the streets on a 5km run starting and ending in Piazza Castello. The registration fee is €15, and all participants will receive a Santa hat, bag, a race number and a few coupons from sponsors. The website is in Italian so you might need a native speaker to help you navigate the online registration.

Other Markets
Various other outdoor markets around the city will also start springing up during the weekend of December 7th, and should last until Christmas. Locations include Duomo, Paolo Sarpi, Piazza Gae Aulenti, Affori, Portello, Isola and others!

Italian Christmas Sweets

For those of you who are spending their first Christmas season in Milan, the traditional Milanese Christmas desserts of panettone or pandoro are a must to be tried out.

Panettone is a spongy fruitcake usually filled with butter, eggs, raisins, candied orange bits and orange and lemon zest and can be purchased in any supermarket or pasticceria in the city during the holiday season. Panettone, meaning “big bread,” got its origins here in Milano and has been around since Roman times. There are several industrial brands, such as Alemagna, Bauli, Motta and Tre Marie, which are cheaper than their handmade counterparts and may come in variations to the traditional panettone.

There are several legends behind the creation of the panettone, one of the more popular ones concerns a young Milanese nobleman, a member of the Atellini family, who fell in love with the daughter of a baker named Toni. To impress the girls father, the young man disguised himself as a baker and invented a sweet, bread of an unusual size with a top shaped like a church dome. This new, fruitcake-like bread enjoyed enormous success, with people coming to the bakery from all over Italy to purchase the magnificent Pan de Toni (Panettone).

Pandoro is a specialty from Verona and is similar to panettone, but without the fruit bits and is generally topped with icing sugar and vanilla powder. The recipe follows closely a production formula in the Venetian tradition. Tall, distinctive and shaped like a Christmas tree, it is topped with powdered sugar reminiscent of snow, or a twinkling star. And indeed, if cut horizontally, each slice is a star.