December Sicily Tips
December in Sicily is a contrasting month: some places by the sea can still enjoy lovely weather and mild temperatures. It is still possible to stroll on the beach or sit at a cafe on a seafront with the sun shining. In the countryside or in mountain, December means the start of the first seasonal cold weather. Snow can occasionally be present in the mountain villages and on Mt. Etna. We also offer ski packages for a weekend or a whole week.
Events on the Natural Side
December starts with an important event: the Chocolate Festival in Modica. The beautiful town in the province of Ragusa, southern Sicily, hosts 3 days of interesting seminars, exhibitions and wine and grappa tasting. It comes along with street music. It will also be the chance to visit one of the capital cities of Sicilian baroque, with magnificent buildings and churches. Modica also hosts the Museum of Chocolate and the oldest chocolate makers, famous Bonajuto family.
The city of Caltanissetta, central Sicily, will host a Turruni Festival. Turruni is the Sicilian version of Italian torrone, made with nougats or almonds. The city of Ribera, not far from Agrigento, hosts an important food festival: Winter Food Festival (the city is famous for the excellent quality of their Sicilian oranges).
December in Sicily means important religious events. The month will begin with the religious celebrations for St. Barbara, the patron saint of Paternò, not far from Catania. December 8 is Italian bank holiday, so the “Immacolata Concezione” day is a chance to join the beginning of Yuletide season. That day is also traditionally chosen as the day to set nativity scenes and Christmas trees at home. Across November and December, the Feast of St. Nicholas is celebrated in several towns, particularly in Trecastagni, being the patron saint. A few days later, December 13, one more important religious event: St. Lucy, widely worshipped in Sicily (and Italy). St. Lucy is the patron saint of Syracuse, so expect a big festival there (and on December 20 again), but tens of Sicilian towns will celebrate the day.
Christmas Markets and Presepi
Several towns, particularly in mountain, will start their Christmas markets in the main square. Erice and Rometta Marea are among the oldest ones, but almost every town will set markets for Christmas, particularly the towns around Mt. Etna. The big cities too, as Palermo and Catania, will set markets in a few streets in their historical centers. Castelbuono, not far from Palermo, hosts a combination of Christmas market and sweets festival, Dolcemente Castelbuono.
Religions and tradition merge in a typical event which marks the whole month of December: the presepi (nativity scenes). Every town will set its own interpretation of a presepe and several towns will set a living nativity scene, with procession or specific programs for the “show”. The art of making presepi has its capital city in Caltagirone, not far from Catania. Caltagirone is also famous for being the capital city of pottery and ceramics, with plenty of stores and workshops. Loads of Sicilian towns present their presepi as the best in Sicily: this results in a huge offer for tourists. Particularly, the mountain towns host charming settings: many of them are officially awarded as “the most beautiful small towns in Italy”. Petralia Sottana, in the Madonie Mountains, hosts an old presepe. The town of Monforte Sangiorgio, in the Nebrodi Mountains, hosts a “living presepe,” with people acting as characters of the presepe story. Everywhere amazing food and wine will accompany the events.
Our recommendation is to plan a long weekend, at least. The suggested area is eastern Sicily: Catania international airport is a perfect hub for moving all along the eastern shore, between Mt. Etna and its mountain views and tastes and the Greek and baroque side in Syracuse and Ragusa. It is well connected and served by both many international airlines and low-cost carriers from several European cities (e.g. Ryanair, EasyJet, Vueling, to mention a few). You will bump into art exhibitions, cultural festivals, markets and local fairs, where to combine food for mind and for mouth or get lost in picturesque small towns or in a outlets and malls for shopping and fashion lovers.
Catania lies just in the middle way between Syracuse and Mt. Etna. Conveniently located and well served by free highways, railways and bus systems, Syracuse is 1 hour drive from Catania. Mt. Etna is closer, but no highways go up to the volcano, of course. You will have to pass through several small towns, of which many deserve a stop. Mt. Etna also offers loads of activities for all kinds of fun and difficulty. This is also the area of great wine producers and a visit to their vineyards and cellars is a must. It will be a good combination of food for mind and for the soul, which is what Sicily is after all.