We talk a lot about how we Italian-American's celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but it's much different than how it's celebrated in Italy.
Back in the old country, there's no Santa Claus. Instead, children get their gifts from La Befana, a kind, old witch who brings them toys on January 6 at the Feast of the Epiphany. Here's the legend of La Befana, from About.com:
According to the legend of la Befana, the Three Wise Men stopped at her hut to ask directions on their way to Bethlehem and to invite her to join them. She refused, and later a shepherd asked her to join him in paying respect to the Christ Child. Again she refused, and when night fell she saw a great light in the skies.
La Befana thought perhaps she should have gone with the Three Wise Men, so she gathered some toys that had belonged to her own child, who had died, and ran to find the kings and the shepherd. But la Befana could not find them or the stable. Now, each year she looks for the Christ Child. Since she can not find him, she leaves gifts for the children of Italy and pieces of coal (nowadays carbone dolce, a rock candy that looks remarkably like coal) for the bad ones.
Christmas in Italy is much more than a two-day event. It's a month-long festival that begins on December 6, for La Festa di San Nicola (The festival of St. Nicholas) and ends on January 6 with La Festa dell-Epifania (The Feast of the Epiphany). Here are all of the key dates during the Italian Christmas holiday:
La Festa di San Nicola—The festival in honor of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of shepherds, is celebrated in towns such as Pollutri with the lighting of fires under enormous cauldrons, in which fave (broad beans) are cooked, then eaten ceremoniously
L'Immacolata Concezione—celebration of the Immaculate Conception
La Festa di Santa Lucia—St. Lucy's Day
La Vigilia di Natale—Christmas Eve
La Festa di Santo Stefano—St. Stephen's Day marks the announcement of the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the Three Wise Men
La Festa di San Silvestro—New Year's Eve
Il Capodanno—New Year's Day
La Festa dell'Epifania—The Epiphany