On December 7th, Milan celebrates St Ambrose’s Day, also known as Festa di Sant’Ambrogio, with special events.
This year the Feast will be on Friday, so many companies and schools will be closed for the whole weekend. However, bars, restaurants and the shops in the city center will stay open.
Who was Saint Ambrose?
Aurelius Ambrosius (340 AD – 397 AD ) was born in Treves (Trier), Gaul. He trained as a lawyer and became governor of Milan before he was appointed as the city’s bishop in 374. He wrote about the scriptures, composed many hymns, devoted his time to studying theology and gave his possessions to the poor.
St Ambrose was known for denying church entrance to emperor Theodosius I for his massacre of about 7000 people in Thessalonica in 390. He also had considerable influence over St Augustine, an early Christian Saint whose writings were widely read.
When in Rome, live as the Romans do; when elsewhere, live as they live elsewhere.
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Oh Bej! Oh Bej! Street Market
From December 7th to 10th, Milan hosts Oh Bej! Oh Bej! street market. The streets around Castello Sforzesco are busy with people trying an assortment of different local food and drinks, as well as a market of arts and crafts stalls.
The Fair’s name comes from the children’s dialect exclamations as they opened the presents, crying, “Oh bej! Oh bej!” (“How beautiful! How beautiful!”) and even today, some of the market traders use this expression to attract custom.
There is a typical Christmas atmosphere and people traditionally buy and eat roast chestnuts and drink vin brûlé (mulled wine).
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There are, of course, religious celebrations in honour of the saint as well and most of these will take place in Saint Ambrose Basilica, which is well worth a visit.
Moreover, after more than 50 years of closure, San Sepolcro Crypt reopens with evening visits, with a new lantern lighting system and a sweet background music.
With the purchase of the ticket, the visitor contributes concretely to the great restoration work awaiting the Crypt.
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In Porta Venezia Gardens, Wonderland Village comes back: it’s fairy-tale space that offers a Christmas atmosphere with two skating rinks, children’s rides and shows.
Meanwhile, in the Christmas Village at Gae Aulenti Square you can buy handicrafts and gourmet products, attend performances with street artists, admire the International Cribs’ Show and ice skating on the track. Even the little ones will also have fun with several workshops, rides and a marionette theater.
Street food and music will further enrich the party.
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The Opening Night at La Scala Theater
The tradition to inaugurate the lyrical season on December 7th, a day which is linked to the patron saint of Milan (St. Ambrose), was adopted on a stable basis only starting in 1951.
On December 7th, 1951, the opera show “The Vespers of Sicily” was performed by the “Divine” Maria Callas, who had debuted in Milan only a few months earlier.
Over the years, The Scala Opening Night has become a happening not only cultural, but also social: many are in fact the curious who stand for hours in front of the entrance in the hope of seeing VIPs taking part in the evening.
Since 2008, a few days before the première, there is the “Preview of the Opening Night”, which can only be attended by young people under the age of thirty.