On December 7, Milan celebrates the feast of its patron saint, St. Ambrose. Visiting the city during the feast on Italy custom tours is an unforgettable experience.
St Ambrose’s Day is close to the hearts of Milanese people and attracts many visitors from across the country. Aurelius Ambrosius was the city’s governor in the 4th century. His wise decisions, passionate speeches and concern for the poor earned Ambrose people’s trust who demanded that he would be appointed the bishop of Milan. Ambrose gave his wealth to the needy, preached peace and saved many lives in the days when bloody wars were the norm.
The Feast of St. Ambrose has been celebrated since the 14th century with a service at one of the city’s oldest churches, the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio. From the 1500s, the Saint Ambrose fair, or as it is known locally “Oh Bej! Oh Bej! mercatino” (“Oh so nice! Oh so nice” in Milanese dialect) became part of the tradition. Originally, it was held on the streets around the basilica but nowadays it is located near the Sforzesco Castle. Almost 100 vendors sell a colourful array of goods: sweets, toys, antiques, hand crafts and Christmas decorations.
It has become a tradition that the new season at the La Scala opera house starts on St Ambrose’s Day. Celebrities and opera lovers attend the opening in their best designer dresses and tailcoats with journalists, photographers and society correspondents recording the evening’s events.
Banks and offices close in Milan for the Feast of St. Ambrose but most bars and restaurants stay open feeding happy crowds.
Another highlight of the celebration is that the season of panettone, traditional local sweet bread with candied fruit, begins. It has become well-known across the world as a Christmas treat but Milanese people start eating panettone on St Ambrose’s Day and continue well into New Year’s Day and beyond.
Photos via Flickr: Andrea Stefanini, Jim Forest, Yuichi Sakuraba.