The break of December marks the initiation of Tuscany’s festive holiday season, accompanied by an assortment of uniquely Florentine landmarks and traditions. The lights, street markets and various events all contribute to the encapsulated joy emitted during a Christmas in Florence. This December, the city finds more than the sole enjoyment of another year of holidays; our festivities represent the return of communal solidarity, a sorely missed sentiment that arguably transcends pretty holiday decorations into a reservoir of unlimited bliss.
This time last year, the Tuscan community’s movement was hindered by its “orange” zone status, where people were confined to their municipalities, the region’s 10pm curfew and the complete absence of sit-down experiences at restaurants and cafes. Foot traffic on the streets was scarce and tourism was practically non-existent. Despite the city’s variety of restrictions, Florence’s Christmas lights still illuminated the streets. At the time, the lights were a symbol of hope, a necessity that could glow when Florentines needed it most. However, last year after their installment, I walked down an embellished via Tornabuoni and found that its decorations were muffled by a central missing element: the onlookers, even enthusiasts, that during any normal season would flood these streets. Fortunately, this year, the city’s notorious lights can serve to accelerate a surrounding Christmas camaraderie rather than hold it all on its shoulders. For, without its crowds of people filling the streets, beaming with increasingly intense anticipation, December in Florence is not whole.
This year, the holiday season can reach its full potential. With a full range of markets and events to contribute to the yearly lights, all members of the Tuscan community and beyond may flood the streets and experience the complete offerings of a Florentine December. This season, some of the many landmark annual festivities of Florence have already begun. One such foundational tradition for this festive season is the return of the well-established market in Santa Croce. The German Christmas market, the Weihnachtsmarkt, is back until December 20.
The market has been an annual tradition for 20 years in Florence (with the exception of 2020, for obvious reasons), featuring more than 50 wooden stalls that showcase a stark variety of goods. Encompassing cultures from all over Europe, the market represents hearty cuisine of all origins. By just walking 15-20 seconds through this small village of wooden stalls, one can find anything from a Bratwurst, pork sandwich and roasted potatoes to an Austrian breze (which, to my observation, is the equivalent of a pretzel-shaped donut). The assortments are endless; for those with a sweet tooth, the stands devoted entirely to pastries, churros, Dutch waffles or chocolate should satisfy such cravings. Another possible try are the Kürtőskalács, or chimney cakes, that can be covered in any toppings included, but not limited to, chocolate and cinnamon. If the blistering winds of a sharp December evening are getting the best of your winter coat, a heated beverage like mulled wine or hot chocolate can warm you up indefinitely. Beyond the endless possibilities for food and beverages, the market also contains various booths of local artisans that bring their own twists to the market. They have unique treats for family stockings, with multiple vendors offering anything from beautifully crafted ornaments and candle votives to stuffed animals and toys. A plentiful variety of ceramic home goods are offered at the English stalls, where you can even buy an amazing lemon curd or fruit mince. The stands’ mix of goods offers a fixation on the otherwise unseen; it gives every person the opportunity to take enjoyment in small foods and trinkets completely unique to the market they’re in. It also has a full calendar of events for this month with a particular attention to entertainment for children. They’ll have games, live music, and even a Santa’s House for the kids. The Weihnachtsmarkt acts as a bubble of eclectic culture only seen in Florence in December. After its previous absence, there is no doubt that the market will shine brighter than ever.
The return of many Christmas traditions in Florence, surprisingly enough, also marks some serious economic change. This holiday season, according to a study from Codacons, risks becoming the most expensive in recent years and could cost Italy nearly 1.4 billion euro more than before the pandemic. For instance, baking companies have estimated that the cost of panettones could go up by 20 percent this year. They’ve even made a conservative prediction that Italian families will spend about 100 million euro more than in 2019, before the pandemic.
Albeit more expensive, this Christmas season marks the return of crowds, tourism and even restaurants that the city sorely missed last year. Through long-time traditions like the market in Santa Croce, members of the city’s community are taking comfort in return of a partially-masked normality during this year’s cherished festivities.
This article was written by Jack Bach, a student at The International School of Florence.