The Milanese feast of Sant’Ambrogio: experience the traditions


The two days of celebrations for Sant'Ambrogio, patron saint of the city, and for the Immaculate Conception, respectively on December 7th and 8th, mark the beginning of the Christmas festivities in Milano: a wonderful occasion steeped in traditions from the First Night at La Scala to the “Oh bej! Oh bej!” market. It is one of the most evocative times to visit the city, when visitors can participate in events that no Milanese would ever want to miss. 


Find out here our tips for celebrating in the city.

The First Night at La Scala

For the Milanese it is simply “La Scala”, but the Teatro alla Scala is one of the most famous theatres in the world, a temple of opera, ballet and music. 
Some of the most famous operas have made their debut on its stage, such as Bellini's Norma, Verdi's Otello and Nabucco, Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, Puccini's Madama Butterfly and Turandot


Since 1951, at the behest of Victor De Sabata, the director at that time, the La Scala season opens on December 7th, the feast of Sant'Ambrogio, patron saint of Milano.


La Prima (First Night at La Scala) is a unique event, a sophisticated musical and cultural occasion, which has always been attended by the highest-ranking city and State institutions and frequented by esteemed figures in Italian social, economic and cultural spheres.

The display of fine clothes and stunning jewellery easily competes with the spectacular entertainment onstage, so much so that on the First Night crowds gather in front of the theatre to catch a glimpse of the glitterati entering the foyer. Nobody wants to miss the fabulous and prestigious social event of the season, even from afar.


This year Don Carlo by Giuseppe Verdi will be performed, conducted by Maestro Riccardo Chailly and directed by Lluìs Pasqual, with a great cast: René Pape will play Filippo II, Anna Netrebko will be Elisabetta di Valois and Francesco Meli will play Don Carlo

La Prima Diffusa, bringing opera to the public

Screenings, concerts, exhibitions and performances citywide for the First Night at La Scala

From December 1st to 7th, 2023, numerous free events organised throughout the city will take Verdi's Don Carlo to the streets, piazzas, theatres and even prisons. With the Prima Diffusa cultural event, the Municipality of Milano and Edison organise screenings, concerts, performances, exhibitions and meetings dedicated to the inaugural opera of the Teatro alla Scala season in over 30 locations citywide.


Don't miss the chance to follow the Prima della Scala live, free of charge, on December 7th in more than 30 places throughout the city: if you're in the city centre, go to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II!

Oh Bej! Oh Bej! Christmas market

At Castello Sforzesco

For over five centuries, the most traditional, and one of the most popular events, of the Sant'Ambrogio celebrations that has always preceded Christmas for the Milanese is the Oh Bej! Oh Bej! market selling sweets, surprises and of all kinds of artefacts.

In honour of Sant'Ambrogio, the patron saint of the city, it is celebrated on December 7th and lasts an average of four days. It is a must for every Milanese and visitor who is in search of the perfect gift or who, simply, wants to soak up the wonderful festive atmosphere and traditions of the most important weekend before Christmas. This year it will be open from December 7th to 10th to the rear of the Castello Sforzesco.


All kinds of products for all budgets will be on sale: bric a brac sellers will tout their wares alongside florists, artisans, tradesmen, print and book sellers, master ironmongers with wrought iron, copper and brass items, plus, vendors of sweets and handcrafted toys, local honey producers and sellers of roasted chestnuts and ‘Firunatt’ or ‘Firòn’, the traditional strings of smoked chestnuts that form long ‘necklaces’… the choice is endless. 


Stroll around the stalls with a piping hot drink and enjoy the traditional Christmas treats (don’t forget that it’s now ‘Panettone season’ for all ages!); it’s a winter experience not to be missed and the perfect way to get know and love the city just like the Milanese!


Fascinating trivia: where does the name “Oh Bej! Oh Bej!” come from?

In Milanese dialect “Oh Bej! Oh Bej!” means "Oh beautiful, Oh beautiful" and tradition has it that it was the cry of joy from the children of the city upon seeing the enticing products on display.  

Another version actually pinpoints the precise historical moment when this cry was heard: shouts of joy from the Milanese children when, in 1510, they saw the gifts brought to the city by Pope Pius IV’s envoy Giannetto Castiglioni.

This version indicates the antiquity of the fair, which dates it back to the late thirteenth century.

Enjoy a traditional panettone

In this long pre-Christmas Milanese festa, the pastry shops start producing the city’s traditional Christmas dessert which has consecrated the fame of the pasticcerie at an international level. Panettone, with its inimitable flavour, is also one of the best-known symbols of Milano around the world.


The story goes that panettone was invented… find out here.


Download here a map of the pasticcerie and panifici in Milano, Monza Brianza and Lodi that produce Panettone following the traditional artisan recipe. Choose your favourite, and gift the taste of tradition! 

Switching on the tree lights in Piazza Duomo

Traditionally, the Milanese decorate their Christmas trees on December 7th.


You might like to make the most of this festive moment to admire the tree, the symbol of Christmas, next to the Duomo. Take a tour of the market stalls, and be enchanted by the glittering window displays at the Rinascente and in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele.


The switch-on ceremony in Piazza Duomo will be on December 6th at 5:00 pm. Make sure you don’t miss the moment!

Artigiano in Fiera and the Christmas gift markets

Christmas in Milano is a celebration that starts in the homes and then spreads out into the city streets and the shops with dazzling window displays. It even ventures as far as the Rho Fiera Milano with a unique and original artisan fair

Thanks to Artigiano in Fiera, from December 2nd to 10th, 2023, the mega trade fair pavilions will be filled with the flavours of the world, together with fascinating and exclusive artifacts from far-flung destinations.

Mass production has no place here, the fair showcases the excellence of craftsmanship and the uniqueness of artisan goods. Designed for small-scale production, those who buy know that they are purchasing an almost unique piece. 


From December 1st, you can also shop for Christmas gifts at the market stalls in Piazza Duomo; stroll amongst the characteristic wooden huts selling artisanal flavours and products, with activities also designed with young visitors in mind at Santa's Grotto.


To wrap-up your Christmas shopping in style, you’ll be spoilt for choice with everything on offer in the world-famous shopping streets of Milano.