Last year when my family and I spent Christmas in Paris I was taken with the Christmas Markets. These are hundreds of pretty white wooden sheds owned by individual vendors each selling something different. In Paris, the items were beautiful, useful and of quality. It was a delight with all the Christmas lights around and the soft sound of Christmas carols playing in the background. You could stroll through them with a cup of vin chaud (hot wine) or steaming thick hot chocolate. Strolling through it was beautiful, festive and even romantic.
So as I made my way to Rome this year with great anticipation for the Christmas market at Piazza Navona. I’d heard it was the best Christmas market in Rome. And knowing Rome, I was expecting it to be absolutely fabulous. Sometimes, it’s amazing how disappointed one can be.
Piazza Navona is one of Rome’s most beautiful and famous piazza and it was full of brown, shabby wooden sheds and to my disappointment they were filled with mostly junk. There were sheds with cheap carnival toys, very old and worn stuffed animals, giant bundles of inflated balloons of all shapes and sizes (that had nothing to do with Christmas) and touristy trash like key chains and miniature tea cups – again none of this had anything to do with Christmas. The sheds were not just filled with this junk, but spilled out onto the piazza to double the size of their shed.
There were carnival games, some you shoot, others you throw balls at and the prizes ranged from tiny plastic toys to rifles (I hope they were toys!) and giant stuffed gorillas about 5-feet tall! The Christmas Market at Piazza Navona is more of a carnival than a beautiful Christmas market experience.
In between, there were a few sheds with scarves, some beautiful glass Christmas ornaments, leather goods and nativity scenes. There were food vendors selling the traditional paninis and pizza to fresh giant donuts (that they put in the panini press to warm them up for you) and warm, sweet crepes. Unfortunately, these sheds were all overshadowed by the overflowing amount of junk and lack of Christmas lights or music.
As one would expect, nativity scenes in Rome are big. In fact, they’re collectable items. The vendors at the Christmas market sell them in pieces. You purchase the individual pieces and create your own nativity scene. There were tiny baby Jesus to large ones, sheep came in all sizes and colours as did wise men and mangers. I thought the prices were a bit expensive because when you bought all the pieces you wanted in the style and size you wanted, it would probably cost hundreds of dollars.
Beyond Piazza Navona, the streets of Rome are decorated with great style and class for the holiday season. If you ever come (and I highly, highly recommend it!), you’ll find this ancient city is the entre of the universe for a beautiful, peaceful Christmas experience. But if you happen to read those web-stories about the festive draw of Piazza Navona, don’t believe it for a moment!