The holidays have arrived in Venice. How do we know? Because just before we all succumb to the effects of days that darken before five in the afternoon, the city comes to the rescue, draping the calli (passageways) with strands and strands of tiny white lights. The result is instant cheer, and changes scurrying about in the cold from a drudgery to a delight.
Another sign is the appearance of Christmas markets that pop up all around the city from mid December on, at San Bartolomeo just off the Rialto, up the Strada Nova, and even on Lido, just to name a few.
Looking for other holiday sights and sounds? The island of Murano hosts the glittering festival Natale di Vetro, or Christmas of Glass. There’s a variety of outdoor sculptures, exhibitions and presentations. If you’re in Venice for Christmas Eve, the Midnight Mass at the Basilica di San Marco is be an unforgettable experience. The warm ambience of glistening mosaics creates a one-of-a-kind atmosphere for the holy mass. The service begins at 10:30 p.m., but do arrive earlier, as it’s heavily attended. Enter at the north entrance off the Piazzetta, and dress warmly: the Basilica can be drafty on a winter’s eve.
For eating out around the holidays, be sure to reserve ahead. Anyone who is visiting will be seeking to eat at many of the same locales, and recommended eateries will be in demand. There will be very few privately owned places open on Christmas and New Year’s Day; however, as owners will spend the holiday with family. For eating out, you’ll likely be choosing between a reliable hotel restaurant such as the Monaco or the Met, or opting for Chinese, pizza, or perhaps the Caffè Florian on the piazza…at least to enjoy a cioccolato caldo (hot chocolate).
If you’d like to make it a musical holiday, consider attending the Concerto di Capodanno, the New Year’s concert offered by the Teatro La Fenice on December 30th at 8 p.m., the 31st at 7 p.m., and on New Year’s Day at 2:15 p.m. For information on the Fenice concerts, call Venezia Unica at (39) 041 2424 or visit www.veneziaunica.com.
There are other musical offerings for both Christmas and New Year’s. From violins to Vivaldi to opera highlights, these concerts are all held in opulent palaces: there is one that includes a buffet dinner held at the Scuola Giovanni Evangelista, and another is a formal dinner and gala at the Palazzo Barbarigo-Minotto. To book these concerts, stop by the tourist pavilion just outside the Royal Gardens near the Vallaresso vaporetto stop, or use an online booking service such as www.classictic.com. Of course, thousands will be celebrating New Year’s Eve in Piazza San Marco — if you decide to join them, be sure to check the acqua alta forecast, bundle up, and remember: no glass bottles permitted in the Piazza.
No matter what activity you choose — even if it’s simply wandering the city — you’ll always savor the special atmosphere that reigns in Venice throughout the holidays. Buone feste!
— Nan McElroy