If you happen to be in Milan on the second week of December, here are 5 things you should know about St Ambrose’s Day, which is celebrated on December 7th.
1 – St Ambrose was the bishop of Milan at the end of the fourth century after Christ. He is the patron saint of Milan, and the Feast of Saint Ambrose is a day off for most people here. Besides, it is followed by another public holiday, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, on December 8th, so a lot of Milanese will take the chance to have a nice extra break from work just before the long Christmas holiday. But don’t worry: while companies shut down, shops and stores are well open and happy to welcome you! December 7th is also the best moment to visit the Basilica of St Ambrose, dating from the IV century AD. With the help of a local guide you will discover all the amazing stories surrounding such an ancient building.
2 – St Ambrose’s day is the official start for Christmas Season in Milan, and the moment when Christmas lights were traditionally turned on. But we all want to get into the festive spirit as soon as possible, so thanks to globalization nowadays we have anticipated to Black Friday the day when all Christmas lights are switched on. Yet in the case of the 30-metre Christmas tree standing in Duomo square it seems that tradition will be respected, therefore we have to wait until Thursday evening for the magic moment.
3 – The Feast of St Ambrose in Milan is synonym to “Oh Bej Oh Bej” street market. From December 7th to Sunday 10th , from 8.30 am to 9 pm, the whole area around the imposing Sforza Castle will be busy with people trying an assortment of local food and drinks, as well as shopping at colourful arts and crafts stalls. The funny name of this market, which sounds like “obey”, means “oh beautiful oh beautiful” in local dialect. According to a legend, on December 7th 1510 Giannetto Castiglione, delegate of Pope Pius IV, was visiting Milan and in order to ingratiate himself with the Milanese he entered the city carrying boxes full of sweets and toys for the local children, who welcomed him with cheerful cries: “Oh bej! Oh bej!”
4 – It is on St Ambrose’s Day that the world-famous La Scala Opera House starts its season. La Scala’s opening night is one of the most glamorous annual occasions in Italy, and tickets are only affordable for the happy few, but as usual the premiere – this year, Umberto Giordano’s “Andrea Chenier” – will be screened live around the city, so that all milanesi and visitors, and even jail inmates, can enjoy such high point of Milan’s cultural calendar. The opera will be broadcast live (and free) at many venues such as the Octagon of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, and even on the national tv channel Rai5.
5 – If you are not really fond of opera, then you may like superstar pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi, who is going to play at Teatro Dal Verme from December 8th to 17th. His shows are almost sold out, so hurry up if you want to listen to his minimalistic, mesmerizing melodies.
BONUS – 6 – If you have kids and you are desperately looking for engaging activities for them, do not miss “City Booming Milano” at Palazzo dei Giureconsulti in via Mercanti (just in front of Duomo). It is a spectacular diorama made of 7 million Lego bricks and representing a megacity with its skyscrapers, streets, shops and 6.000 mini citizens. Look carefully and, among the crowd, you’ll spot Batman, Harrison Ford and the Simpsons!