Many Italian cities across the boot feature Christmas markets this time of the year, and Bologna has its own too: the ancient Fiera di Santa Lucia, whose origins date to the end of the 16th century.
Before Napoleonic troops invaded the city, the mercatino was held in front of the former church dedicated to Saint Lucia in via Castiglione; after 1796, it was moved under the portico of the Church of Santa Maria dei Servi in Strada Maggiore, where it’s still held today.
The many stalls (bancarelle), open until December 26, offer a variety of Christmas decorations, including Christmas trees, balls, festoons, lights, and of course, crib statuettes. Classics like baby Jesus, the ox and the donkey, stand alongside more fanciful creations, such as tiny forks and plates for decorating tables, sticks for the Three Wise Men or baskets for shepherds.
Bologna boasts a rather ancient nativity scene tradition (presepe bolognese), dating back to the 13th century. The Bolognese nativity scene tradition differs from others in Italy, for example the famous Neapolitan tradition, because the characters are molded or carved in full, including the clothes, using materials such as terracotta, wood, papier-mache and plaster.
Bologna’s Fiera di Santa Lucia offers a few gastronomic treats as well, with traditional Christmas candy, such as hot and crunchy croccante alle mandorle (made with almonds and sugar), torrone (nougat) or traditional sweets from the nearby Apennines.
While you’re there, peek inside the Church of Santa Maria dei Servi, where, to the right of the entrance, a nativity scene with life-size plaster statues from the 1800s is displayed; it’s designed by Daniele Giorgetti, an artisan nativity scene maker, whose – smaller – handmade, hand-painted creations can be found at the Fiera.
A side note: unfortunately, the offer of authentic, artisan-made Christmas items has diminished in recent times, with some stalls offering mass-produced, or even unrelated-to-Christmas, articles. Still, for the Bolognesi, visiting and shopping at the Fiera di Santa Lucia is a heart-felt Christmas tradition and, if you’re in town during the holidays, I’d recommend paying a visit.
The Santa Lucia Christmas market is open from 9 am to 8 pm, every day until December 26.
Want more Christmas markets in Bologna? Here’s a list from the City of Bologna’s official website (in Italian).