Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! – What We Like about Christmas in Italy

Kathryn for
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel

Have you been trying to speak Italian more easily and confidently in 2022?

 I hope that I have helped you this year and you have reached your goal! I have been by posting a new blog every month in the series “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” With these blogs, I discuss how Italians use their language on a daily basis and in so doing help you to “think in Italian.” 

The end of the year is upon us, bringing with it yet another Christmas season in Italy. No matter if you are a child or an adult, there are so many things to like about how this special season is celebrated in Italy — the lights and decorations, the household preparations that have been passed down for generations, and finally, the much anticipated gathering of family on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  What better time is there than Christmas to review how Italians use the verb piacere, which means “to like”? 

While many Italian families celebrate Christmas by following traditions passed down through the generations, other families have adopted festivities from neighboring countries. This leaves us with an important conversational point. It is possible to describe what one person likes as it relates to what someone else likes using piacere and the Italian disjunctive pronouns. There are also many Italian verbs that one needs to be familiar with to talk about current Christmas traditions in Italy, many of which have taken on a new importance now that new traditions have been adopted.

As I’ve said before, I believe that “commonly used phrases” are the key for how we can all build fluency in any language in a short time.

If we learn how to incorporate “commonly used phrases”  with the Italian verb piacere, both with and without disjunctive pronouns, we will be able to communicate just as we do in our native language and ask for whatever we need politely!

This post is the 62nd  in a series of Italian phrases we have been trying out in our Conversational Italian! Facebook group.  If you’d like to read the earlier posts in the series, “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day!” just click HERE

Many “commonly used phrases” in Italian
use the verb

to describe what one likes and compare this
with what another likes using disjunctive pronouns.
See below for how this works.

As we all master these phrases, so will you. Try my method and let me know how it works. What sentences will you create with these phrases?

Please reply. I’d love to hear from you! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

The basics of the Italian language are introduced in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar  

                       found on and Learn Travel

The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained at Learn Travel


How to Use the Italian Verb Piacere to Say…

“Mi Piace Natale!”

In a previous blog on this topic, Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! Piacere: How Italians Say, “I like it!,”

we learned:

The Italian verb piacere literally means “to be pleasing.” Italians use this verb when they want to express the idea that they like something. It is how Italians say, “I like it!”

It should first be noted that piacere has an irregular conjugation. Then, it is important to understand that the verb piacere works  differently than most other Italian verbs that have an -ere ending. In effect, the subject of the sentence that uses the verb piacere will be the thing or things that are likedTherefore, to agree with the subject,  the conjugated forms of piacere  will usually be the singular or plural third person. 

The singular third person form of piacere is piace and the plural is piacciono.

Rather than conjugating the verb piacere in its entirety, for now we will focus on the two most important conjugations of piacere listed above — piace if one thing is liked and piacciono if many things are liked.  

Italians then put one of the indirect object pronouns – mi, ti, Le, le, gli, ci, vi, or glibefore the verb, at the beginning of the sentence, to denote to whom the thing is pleasing.

As a refresher, here is the meaning of the indirect object pronouns we will need to use with piacere.  Notice that the context of the conversation will be important to determine if gli refers to him or to them

Italian Indirect Object Pronouns

mi to me
ti to you (familiar)
Le to you (polite)
le   to her (to Maria)
gli  to him (to Mario)
ci to us
vi to you all
gli to them

If someone likes doing something, follow the indirect object and the verb piacere in the third person singular — piace with an infinitive verb! 

In short, just follow the basic formulas below to describe what things you like in Italian:

Indirect object pronoun + piace + object or activity
Indirect object pronoun + piacciono + objects 

Let’s put all this together to describe the things that are pleasing to us — that is, the things that we like — about the Christmas season in Italy. In the examples for the following sections, the Italian way of thinking is given in English in gray, the true English translation is in black, and the noun or verb that is the subject of the Italian sentence has been underlined.

Also, notice from the examples that Italians use “mi piace molto” to refer to things they really like, where Americans tend to say, “I love.” to express a strong liking for both things and people.

(If you need a more detailed explanation of how piacere works, please see the previous blog about piacere.)

A Traditional Christmas in Italy… 

The Catholic religion is the official religion of Italy. The Italian Christmas season (periodo di Natale) begins on December 8th with the Catholic holiday of L’Immacolata (Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary) and ends on January 6th with L’Epifania (the day the “Three Kings” visit the baby Jesus).

During the Christmas season, lights adorn every town in Italy, and many Italian towns are famous for depictions of Christmas scenes in larger than life light displays. The largest nativity scene in the world, for instance, is on the side of a mountain in the town of Manarola in the famous Cinque Terre region along the northwestern coast of Italy.  This display of lighted homes and figures that is used to create a larger-than-life nativity scene is even included in the Guinness book of world records. Music adds to the special feeling of Christmas in Italy, and Christmas songs from around the world have been translated into Italian. Visit a prior Christmas blog for a link to listen to the most famous Italian Christmas carol, “Tu Scendi dalle Stelle.”

The nativity scene, in Italian called the presepe or presepio, is the center of the religious celebration in Italy. The city of Naples is famous for artisans who produce the manger, figures, animals, and even the surrounding countryside that makes up the nativity scene, in life-like detail. Larger nativity scenes can be found in churches and piazzas, while Italian families often set up a smaller nativity scene at home. Many towns also recruit local volunteers to dress in period costumes and sit in a manger specially constructed for the occasion to create a living nativity scene.

The important family celebration in Italy occurs on Christmas Eve (la Vigilia di Natale). There is a well-known Italian saying that describes the importance of being with family during Christmas: “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi,” which means, “Christmas with your (family), Easter with whom you want.”

Christmas Eve is celebrated with a large fish dinner (cenone) followed by midnight mass at church. There is another family dinner on Christmas day, and afterwards Italians spend the time between Christmas and the New Year making the rounds to visit family and friends. Presents are exchanged on L’Epifania as a finale to the holiday season. The children are told the story of a friendly witch, La Befana, who long ago missed her chance to greet the baby Jesus with the wise men, and now flies on her broom every year in search of him. While on her journey, she drops presents down the chimney into the homes of the Italian children. 

Let’s talk about how much we all like these Italian Christmas traditions using the Italian verb piacere!

Mi piace il periodo di Natale!
[To me the Christmas season is pleasing.]
I like the Christmas season!

Mi piacciono le decorazioni di Natale, specialmente le luci in piazza.
[To me, the Christmas decorations are pleasing.]
I like the Christmas decorations, especially the lights in the piazza.

Mi piace molto cantare le canzoni di Natale.
[To me, singing Christmas songs is pleasing, very much.]
I love to sing Christmas songs.

Le piace sistemare il presepe in casa.
[To her setting up the nativity scene at home is pleasing.]
She likes setting up the nativity scene at home. 

Gli piace il presepe con persone vere in chiesa.
[To him, the living nativity scene at church is pleasing.]
He likes the living nativity scene at church.

Ci piace il cenone della Vigilia di Natale.
[To us, the big dinner on Christmas Eve is pleasing.]

We like the big dinner on Christmas Eve.

Gli piace l’arrivo della Befana di notte.
[To him / To them the arrival of La Befana at night is pleasing.]
He likes / They like the arrival of La Befana at night.

Gli piacciono molto le feste di Natale in Italia!   
[To him / To them the Christmas holidays in Italy are really pleasing!]
He loves / They love the Christmas holidays!

Christmas in Italy Today…

It is also interesting to note that Christmas celebrations in Italy have become more varied. While many Italian families celebrate Christmas by following traditions passed down through the generations, other families have adopted festivities from neighboring countries. 

This is most evident in the replacement of the household nativity scene with a Christmas tree. Italy boasts the largest lighted Christmas tree display in the world, which is along a mountain that overlooks the town of Gubbio in Umbria. Santa Claus (Babbo Natale) has also been added to or replaced the Italian tradition of La Befana. While some families in Italy favor one type of celebration, others favor another.

This leaves us with an important conversational point.
It is possible to describe what one person likes
as it relates to what someone else likes
using disjunctive pronouns in Italian.

The disjunctive pronouns serve to stress that a person likes something with the “a” for “to”. Notice the similarity of the disjunctive pronouns to the indirect object pronouns and subject pronouns we have already learned.

If you want to be specific and use someone’s name, just put the preposition “a” before their name. This is an especially helpful in the third person; instead of the indirect object pronoun gli, which means both “to him” and “to them,”  one can use the more specific disjunctive pronouns. For general groups, you will need [a + Italian definite article].  

Italian Disjunctive Pronouns and Equivalents

a me to me
a te to you (familiar)
a Lei to you (polite)
a lei / a Maria to her / to Maria
a lui / a Marco to him /to Mario
a noi to us
a voi to you all
a loro
ai bambini
agli italiani
to them
to the children
to the Italians

Three of our examples from the last section are below, changed slightly to reflect some new additions to the Italian Christmas celebration. This time the Italian disjunctive pronouns or a person or group’s name is used to describe to whom the traditions are pleasing. The Italian sentence structure and English translation is the same.

A Maria piace sistemare l’albero d’Natale in casa.
[To Maria setting up the Christmas tree at home is pleasing.]
Mary likes setting up the Christmas tree at home. 

Ai bambini piace l’arrivo di Babbo Natale di notte.
[To the children the arrival of Santa Claus at night is pleasing.]
The children like the arrival of Santa Claus at night.

A tutti gli Italiani piacciono molto le feste di Natale!   
[To all the Italians the Christmas holidays are really pleasing!]
All the Italians love the Christmas holidays!

It is important to realize that piace is most commonly used as given in the first section that describes the traditional Italian Christmas — that is, with indirect object pronouns. The disjunctive pronouns are used mainly when one wants to stress a point — when a person likes something that one wouldn’t expect him or her to like, or when someone likes something that is different than the norm. Disjunctive pronouns are also important when comparing the preference of one person with another.

For instance, maybe I like the traditional Italian nativity scene, but Maria does not. I could say,

A me piace sistimare il presepe, ma a Maria no.  Maria preferisce l’albero di Natale.
[Meaning: I like to set up the nativity scene, but Mary doesn’t.]
(Implied: Even though Mary is Italian, for some
unknown reason, she has taken on the tradition of others and Mary prefers to set up a Christmas tree.)

I like setting up the nativity scene, but Mary doesn’t.  Mary prefers  a Christmas tree.

Or perhaps most of the children in a family like the arrival of Santa Claus, but unexpectedly one child in the family wants to wait for La Befana:

Ai nostri bambini piace l’arrivo di Babbo Natale, ma a Marco no.  Invece, Marco aspetta l’arrivo della Befana.
[Meaning: Our children like when Santa Claus arrives, but Mark doesn’t.]
(Implied: For some strange reason, although Mark is young, he doesn’t mind waiting until after Christmas for La Befana to bring him presents.)
The children like when Santa Claus arrives, but Marco doesn’t. Instead, Mark waits for La Befana to arrive.

More Christmas holiday fun…

Below are example sentences for a few more important activities that both Italians and Americans enjoy —  in Italian of course!

Let’s get the house decorated and deck ourselves out as well!

Mi piace addobbare la casa per Natale.
I like decorating/decking out the house for Christmas.

Mi piace anche molto addobbarsi mia bambina per le feste.
Also I love dressing up my baby for the holidays.

And send Christmas wishes to those we care about by snail mail or email…

Nella prima settimana di dicembre, noi mandiamo i bilglietti Natalizi per posta.
In the first week of December, we mail out the Christmas cards.

Negli anni recenti, ho spedito tanti auguri di buon Natale per email.
I recent years, I have sent many Christmas wishes by email.

Wrap presents for Santa or La Befana to deliver for the children…

Ci vuole molto tempo a impacchettare tutti i regali di Natale.
It takes a lot of time to wrap all the Christmas presents.

Lego un fiocco regalo su ogni scatola.
I tie a ribbon around every box.

Exchange and finally unwrap presents!

Alla nostra famiglia piace scambiarsi i regali di Natale dal Natale all’Epifania.
Our family likes to exchange presents with each other from Christmas Day through to the Epiphany.

Ai bambini piace molto scartare i regali!
The children love unwrapping the presents!

When the Christmas holiday is over…

Italians have a saying — “L’epifania tutte le feste porta via!” This means that the arrival of Epiphany signals the end of the holiday season, or, in the Italian way of thinking, “Epiphany takes away the holiday season.” 

The end of the Christmas holidays is, of course, a disappointment. How would we say that we do not like when the holiday season ends in Italian? Just use non as follows: when using the more common sentence structure with indirect object pronouns,  simply place non at the beginning of the sentence. Otherwise, to if you want to use a disjunctive pronoun to emphasize how much you do not when the holidays end, be sure to put non after the disjunctive pronoun, right before piacere.

Non gli piace quando finiscono le feste di Natale!   
[To them, it is not pleasing when the Christmas holidays end!]
They don’t like when the Christmas holidays end!

Agli italiani non piace quando finiscono le feste di Natale!   
[To the Italians, it is not pleasing when the Christmas holidays end!]
The Italians don’t like when the Christmas holidays end!

Buone Feste a tutti e Buon Anno Nuovo!

Happy Holidays to all and Happy New Year! 

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4 thoughts on “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day! – What We Like about Christmas in Italy

  1. Ciao!

    Can you recommend an Italian text book for learning Italian language? I wanted to gift one to a friend for Xmas. Please let me know. They are in need of verb conjugations. Grammar and it’s applications. Other grammatical rules and their applications. Thanks!

    Buon Natale!!!


    Sent from my iPhone



    1. Ciao Maureen! Thank you for asking. The books that I recommend and their links are at the end of my blogs! I’ve written the Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books that are derived from my textbook. My books are specifically written for adults, with the vocabulary they need and will use. Books in the series include “Just the Verbs,” “Just the Grammar” and “Just the Important Phrases.,” all found on Amazon. The dialogue story “Caterina Travels to Italy” is also on Amazon with a Kindle and Audio book. The textbook can only be found on my website, Buon divertimento e Buon Natale a te!


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