Oh bej, Oh bej market starts Milan's Christmas calendar

Christmas festivities around Milan.

Highlight of Milan's festive seson Oh bej! Oh Bej! Christmas market runs from Saturday to Tuesday, 5-8 December.

The St Ambrose feast day on 6 December, recalling the fourth-century bishop and patron saint of Milan, marks the start of numerous Christmas events. One of the first is the opening of the colourful market, originally held at the Basilica Ambrogiana, but which has now become too large for the space there.

This year’s market will host around 380 stalls – most of them strongly tied to Milan traditions – on a 25,000 sqm area surrounding the central Castello Sforza. The stalls include antique dealers and florists, booksellers, wrought iron and other smiths, painters and toymakers, and plenty of stalls with sweets, roast chestnuts, spiced wine and other local delicacies.

The market is famous for a favourite treat of milanesi not found elsewhere: the firòn or firunatt, oven-smoked chestnuts doused in wine and strung up to dry.

The market has been held since 1288. The name dates from 1510, when Pope Pius IV sent an emissary to revive the faith of the milanesi, suspected of lacking enthusiasm for the Church. Fearing an unfriendly reception, the emissary prepared a stock of sweets and toys for local children, who greeted them with cries of Oh bei! Oh bej! (How lovely! How lovely!).

Across the city in the Isola neighbourhood, the Bussa overpass will host the spin-off event Alter bej!, a street market of artisan products, second-hand stalls and artistic creations, accompanied by street music, artists and clowns.

A more modern appointment will be the Villaggio delle Meraviglie, a theme park especially (but not only) for kids in the Montanelli Gardens at Porta Venezia, with a double ice-skating rink, shows, children’s games, food and drink stands and a visit to Father Christmas, open until 10 January.

The Hoepli bookstore in Via Hoepli 5 will make room for a gift store dedicated to the non-profit NGO Emergency, open until 24 December and again from 6 to 16 January. Proceeds will fund the work of the organisation providing free medical help to the needy in Italy and abroad, especially in war zones.