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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Catch the Holiday Spirit at Italy's Christmas Markets

At Christmastime, Italians take to the streets to complete their holiday shopping in the seasonal open-air markets found in most cities. The markets offer traditionalfoods, handmade toys and antiques, as well as Christmas ornaments, poinsettia plants and other holiday decorations.

While the major city markets are widely publicized, most small villages and towns also hold similar markets each December. If you’re not going to be near one of the markets listed below, you’re still bound to stumble upon a local Mercato di Natale if you follow your nose toward the characteristic sweet smell of the castagne, or chestnut vendors.

Milan’s famous antiques fair, La Fiera di Sant’Ambrogio, fills the streets from December 7 to 22. In Naples, artisans set up shop on via San Gregorio Armeno to sell prespi (nativity scenes) and figurines. Romans spend the weeks before Christmas shopping for toys, sweets and holiday decorations at the Mercato di Natale held in Piazza Navona from December 8 through January 6.

Perugia holds the Mercatino delle Strenne (literally, Little Market of Presents) on Via del Circo (in the historic city center) from December 4 to 24. Florence’s Mercato di Natale caters only to last-minute shoppers, as it begins on December 23, but Florentines can spend their vacation days shopping in Piazza Santissima Annunziata until Epiphany on January 6. - Shauna Maher


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