Thanks to a mix of traditions, celebrations and decorations,
the atmosphere in Siena is even more magical during the Christmas festivities.
If you wish to experience a special Christmas this year, immersing yourself in the traditions, customs, and habits of an amazing land, then search no further: Siena is the right destination for you.
Christmas week is a unique opportunity to fully enjoy the millenary history of this wonderful city.
The town centre, adorned with lights, decorations and garlands, is the perfect spot to relax, strolling through the illuminated streets and tasting, over tea or hot chocolate, traditional Tuscan sweets such as the famous Panforte, a recipe made with spices, honey and candied fruit; or the Copate, round sweets filled with honey, egg whites, dried fruit and almonds.
In addition to the Christmas lights, it is the countless nativity scenes in the streets of the centre and the neighbouring villages that astound the eyes of young and old alike. Nativity scenes are a milestone of Tuscan tradition.
The representations are varied and numerous, but among the most renowned is the one in Petroio, a small district in the town of Vinci: an artistic nativity scene in which more than 100 characters recreate the ancient city of Jerusalem, amidst running waterfalls and streams.
Needless to say, it is on the night of the 24th that Siena brings out its most significant and unmissable celebrations.
Two annual events, in particular, make the Sienese territory one of the most evocative destinations for Christmas holidays: the Fiaccole of Abbadia San Salvatore and the torchlight procession of Monteriggioni, two unique yet extremely different interpretations of this magical night.
The Fiaccole di Abbadia San Salvatore is the most eagerly awaited event of the year: huge wooden pyres which can climb seven metres high are set alight, illuminating every corner of the historic centre of this village on the slopes of Monte Amiata. The ritual begins at 9 p.m. and the piles remain lit until dawn, thus creating a festive atmosphere all through the night. In this particular context, locals gather, eat, sing and, along with a glass of mulled wine, celebrate the arrival of Christmas.
The roots of this tradition go back more than 1,000 years, to the time when villagers, scattered around the abbey, lit fires to warm themselves.
A night of magic, not to be missed if you are spending Christmas in the Sienese territory. Its preparation begins as early as mid-autumn, with the torchbearers carefully searching for the perfect trunks to use for the pyres.
For those who prefer a more spiritual Christmas, the recommended destination is Monteriggioni, where a night walk along the Via Francigena sets off every year. Departing at 9 p.m. from the 13th-century castle, the walk stretches for about 4 kilometres through Sienese woods and fields, illuminated by hundreds of torches. The destination is Abbadia ad Isola where, after about 2 hours of walking, a mass is held at the abbey of Saints Salvatore and Cirino and refreshments are served to celebrate Christmas together.
These are just two events that make Christmas in Siena truly unique. And speaking of Christmas, Siena also boasts its own tradition when it comes to presents: until last century, in fact, children believed that presents were brought by the Alberello Magico, the Magic Tree burning in their fireplaces. Before Christmas mass, after lighting the log, the children would move to a different part of the house to say their prayers and, once they returned, they would find the presents under the tree.
However, tradition is not just about making kids happy. For years, the ashes of these logs were considered sacred, so much so that they were scattered on fields for a better harvest, used on animals to make them more fertile or scattered outside homes to protect them from lightning.
To this day, many Tuscans still refer to Christmas Day by the term Ceppo (log, trunk) and call 26 December Ceppino (small log).