If you're in Rome for Christmas, you're in luck! As always, there are absolutely tons of ways to get into the holiday spirit.
Here, the best of what to do.
1. See the Pope. Over the Christmas season, you've got lots of opportunities, from midnight mass (although getting tickets can be tricky) to "Urbi et Orbi" on Christmas Day (no tickets needed). Here's more on how exactly to see the Pope throughout December and January, updated for 2013.
2. Celebrate Christmas at the Auditorium. Every year, Rome's Auditorium hosts a number of Christmas-themed events (link in Italian), running through December and early January. Goings-on include a Christmas fair, ice-skating rink, and lots of concerts, from Christmas Italian music to gospel.
3. Head to a Christmas market. They pop up all over Rome this time of year, the most famous being, of course, that in Piazza Navona (both at top and below). Here's a list of other Christmas markets in Rome (be aware that they're farther afield, and the list is in Italian).
4. Worship—in English. For Catholics, the American Catholic church of Santa Susanna has a children's pageant mass, feast of the Holy Family, and lots of other services throughout Christmas (a great alternative if those Midnight Mass tickets for the Vatican remain just out of reach). The church itself is closed for the moment, but the services continue, as usual, in a variety of other venues throughout the city.
For non-Catholics, the Anglican Church of All Saints' Church holds holiday services, including the Service of Nine Lessons with Carols, and the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church of Scotland has services throughout the Christmas season. Other churches with non-Catholic services in English during Christmas include the American Episcopal Church of St. Paul's Within the Walls, the Methodist Church at Ponte Sant'Angelo, and the non-denominational Cavalry Chapel.
5. Go ice-skating. The Auditorium's not the only place you can slip-and-slide. You also can skate underneath the iconic silhouette of Rome's Castel Sant'Angelo. Click here for more information on the Castel Sant'Angelo rink. Other skating rinks in Rome include those at Re di Roma, Tor di Quinto, and Villa Gordiani.
6. Delve into the tradition of Italian nativity scenes. As well as Christmas cribs popping up in churches all over town, Rome boasts both a museum of more than 3,000 of them and, over Christmas, a temporary exhibition of 200 presepi from artists across the globe. Here's my New York Times piece on where to find presepi in Rome.
7. Check out the Christmas lights. Decorations are getting more ambitious every year, with gorgeous twinklings (and light projections, and jumbo screens) lighting up not only the heart of Rome's centro storico, but even Termini, EUR, and the Fiumicino airport. Don't believe me? Check out my photo post of the prettiest Christmas lights and decorations in Rome!
8. Hear some Handel. The internationally-renowned academy of Santa Cecilia hosts holiday-themed concerts on four nights in December: Handel's Messiah followed by Christmas songs on Dec. 17, the Messiah again on both the 19th and the 20th, and a Christmas concert on the 23rd.
9. Enjoy delicious Christmas sweets. Bakeries are brimming over with yummy holiday offerings like panettone, torrone and pandoro (above). Make sure to taste the goods. It's the one time of year that even Italians over-indulge in the sweet stuff!
10. Give back. In past years, the Emergency Christmas Market is on at Palazzo Velli on Piazza Sant'Egidio 10, in Trastevere. A Christmas market with a twist—proceeds from the goods, which include everything from Nepalese hats to Cambodian silks to Italian panettone, go to charity. (I'm still confirming this for 2013, so check back soon!).
Want more tips about what to do in the Eternal City? Check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, now available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here!