The Christmas atmosphere in Florence, as in many Italian cities, starts in early December. During the first days of the month, in fact, storekeepers begin to decorate their shop windows inspired by the theme of Christmas and the staff of the municipality of Florence begins to place the traditional decorative lighting along the city streets.
DECEMBER 8: IMMACULATE CONCEPTION DAY
December 8 in Italy is a National holiday that celebrates the Immaculate Conception. This day of festivity unofficially starts the countdown to Christmas as many families traditionally use this day to set up and decorate their Christmas tree and Nativity scene in their homes.
And exactly on December 8 in Florence's historic center the large Christmas tree is set up in the magnificent setting of the Piazza del Duomo. The lighting up of the Christmas tree is accompanied by an official public ceremony with the participation of Florence's Mayor and sometimes other events, such as concerts and entertainment for everyone.
In Piazza del Duomo you'll also find the Nativity scene, located to the front and left of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore. The Nativity has life-size beautiful statues made in terracotta by an artisan of Impruneta, a village in the surroundings of Florence famous for the production of terracotta items.
Both the Christmas tree and the Nativity scene are up until January 6, the day of Epiphany.
The Uffizi and Accademia Gallery are generally closed on Mondays but will be open extraordinarily on December 7 (and regularly open on December 8) from 8.15am to 6.50pm.
CHRISTMAS MARKETS AND SHOPPING
Many Christmas markets take place in Florence and the surroundings in the weeks before Christmas (especially during the weekends). Here you'll find gifts of various kinds, from furnishings, food and wine.
The biggest Christmas market in Florence is located in Piazza Santa Croce, and generally lasts from the end of November to the last days before Christmas. It draws on the tradition of German markets, with the typical small wooden houses, and offers different items from crafts to food products, small furniture and Christmas decorations. It hosts foreign exhibitors, but Italian as well. In 2015, the Christmas market will be from the 2nd to 20th of December.
Shopping lovers will find shops open every day until Christmas, both in the historical center and outside.
Among the traditional markets, you can visit the Fierucola dell'Immacolata (Immaculate Small Fair) organized in Piazza Santissima Annunziata on the 8th of December.
You will also find many smaller Christmas markets in the different neighborhoods of the historical center, mainly organized on the weekends. If you're going to visit the surroundings of Florence, you'll find nice Christmas markets and fairs in the Mugello area, but also in the villages of Chianti and in Fiesole.
ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT
In December and January, which are generally the coldest months in Florence, you have the opportunity to practice some typical Winter sports while still remaining in the city (the mountains are not that close, unfortunately)!
At the Parterre area (near Piazza della Libertà) in December you'll find an ice rink where you can also rent ice skates.
The Obihall (in eastern Florence), hosts the Tuscany Winter Park with skating on ice, snow tubing and a downhill ski. All necessary equipment can be rented on site.
In 2015-2016 the Park is open from October 28 to March 6.
Those who wish to participate in the Mass on Christmas day and on Christmas Eve may find celebrations in most of the churches of Florence and beyond.
In the Cathedral of Florence, the traditional Christmas Eve Mass is celebrated by the Cardinal of Florence at midnight (Vigil prayers start at 11pm). On Christmas morning, the Mass is celebrated at 10:30am, in conjunction with the Pope blessing in Rome.
MUSEUMS OPENING DURING CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS
Museums in Florence are generally closed on December 25th and January 1st only, in addition to their usual closing day (often on Monday).
You can find additional information on the schedules of the major museums of Florence during Christmas holidays in this article: http://www.visitflorence.com/christmas-holiday-museum-hours.html.
NEW YEAR’S EVE
For several years now, New Year's Eve in Florence is celebrated in the main squares of the city with concerts of various kinds, from pop music (usually in teh main SMN train station square) to classical music (Piazza della Signoria) to the Gospel (Piazza Santissima Annunziata) and dance music and DJ sets (Largo Annigoni).
On the day of Epiphany, January 6, the Catholic Church celebrates the arrival of the Magi to Bethlehem and the delivery of their gifts to Jesus. In Italy it is a feast day.
Every year on January 6 Florence celebrates Epiphany with the "Cavalcade of the Magi", a grand parade in the historical center which evokes the journey of the Magi and the delivery of the gifts to baby Jesus. The reenactment, in magnificent costume, involves many people from all over Italy and is a traditional and special event I recommend you to see if you are in town. You can find more information and some beautiful images of the event in this article.
If you're in Florence during the Christmas holidays you may visit the marvellous Chapel of the Magi by Benozzo Gozzoli, inside Palazzo Medici Riccardi. It is a small and precious frescoed chapel which traces the journey of the Three Wise Men. It's of course open all the year, but in this season it is almost a must-see!