What to do in Milan on Sant’Ambrogio Weekend

Sant'Ambrogio in Milan

The Christmas markets and villages, the concert in the Cathedral, the ice rinks and free events are all that awaits you on this long weekend, thanks to the Sant’Ambrogio day (December 7th) and the Immaculate Conception (December 8th). Since these days automatically leads into the weekend, it is called a “Ponte” (bridge), here in Italy.

Among its many celebrated traditions, Sant’Ambrogio Day stands out as a time-honored event deeply rooted in the city’s history and culture. This annual celebration, held on December 7th, pays homage to “Saint Ambrose”, the patron saint of Milan, and is marked with religious observances, cultural events, and joyous festivities across the city.

Saint Ambrose, also known as Sant’Ambrogio in Italian, holds a special place in the hearts of Milanese people. He was a revered bishop in the 4th century AD and is remembered for his contributions to the Christian church, his influence on theology, and his commitment to social justice. His legacy continues to resonate strongly in Milan, making Sant’Ambrogio Day a significant occasion for both religious reverence and communal celebration.

The festivities commence with religious ceremonies at the magnificent Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, an ancient church dedicated to the saint. This stunning basilica, dating back to the 4th century, serves as the focal point of the celebrations. Special masses are held throughout the day, attracting both devout locals and visitors eager to participate in the spiritual observances.

However, Sant’Ambrogio Day is more than just a religious event; it is a day of cultural revelry and community bonding. Milan bursts with life as the city comes alive with a myriad of activities and events. Traditional markets spring up across the streets, offering an assortment of local crafts, artisanal goods, and delectable treats. These markets, adorned with festive decorations, create a lively atmosphere where locals and tourists alike mingle, shop, and indulge in seasonal delights.

Now let’s have a look at some of the activities to engage in during the Sant’Ambrogio weekend:

1. Oh Bej! Fair Oh Bej!

The Christmas market at the Sforzesco Castle.

The most traditional and popular of the events of the week of Sant’Ambrogio is the Oh Bej! Fair Oh Bej!, which for five centuries has been anticipating the Christmas holidays of the Milanese with sweets, surprises and curiosities of all kinds.

An obligatory stop for every Milanese and tourist looking for the perfect gift or simply for the festive atmosphere and tradition of the most important weekend before Christmas.

In Milanese dialect “Oh Bej! Oh Bej!” means “Oh beautiful Oh beautiful”, and tradition has it that it was the cry launched by the children of the city at the sight of the products on display.

Another version indicates the precise historical moment in which this cry originated. The exclamations of joy of Milanese children when, in 1510, they saw the gifts brought by Pope Pius IV’s envoy to the city – Giannetto Castiglioni. This indicates the antiquity of the fair, which can even be traced back to the end of the 13th century.

Among all the Christmas desserts and sweets, Panettone will be the real king of the fair, the Milanese dessert par excellence that combines taste and tradition; then obviously the roasted chestnuts, the Pan di mort and all the other honey-based products; for lovers of local products.

Thursday 7 to Sunday 10 December are the dates of the 2023 edition of Oh Bej! Oh Bej!, taking place behind the Sforzesco Castle. As always, the fair hours are from 8.30am to approximately 9.00pm.

2. The premiere at La Scala

As per tradition, every December 7th, the Scala season opens in Milan. In the world of theatre, the Premiere is a truly prestigious evening, most of the VIPs attend the first theater show and this year the artistic season will open with Giuseppe Verdi’s famous Don Carlo, directed by Maestro Riccardo Chailly.

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.

The display of elegant clothes and jewels is no less than the spectacle offered in the theater, so much so that on the day of the premiere, groups of people crowd in front of the theater to catch even just a hint of the glossy world that crowds the foyer and the stalls. Nobody wants to miss the social event of the season, even if from afar.

3. A Christmas Magic

In the heart of CityLife, A Christmas Magic comes to life. The largest indoor Christmas Village in Italy, which welcomes citizens and tourists in the spaces of Allianz Mico with a special ice rink, the Luna Express and a magical enchanted forest.

A magical Christmas event that sees the Milanese space transformed into an enchanted place, a real Christmas village of over twenty thousand square meters for adults and children. Attractions, music, colours, a themed food court where you can stroll outdoors in a perfect party atmosphere, and there is also a large indoor ice skating rink. The village is animated by an incredible cast with classic Christmas characters such as elves and Santa Claus, but also a dance troupe, magicians, jugglers, music with gospel choirs and environments decorated in a play of lights and sounds.

4. Santa Claus House

In Melegnano the lights of Santa Claus’ house are turned on, and it can be visited for free. A show with over 530 thousand LEDs that design various settings, from Santa Claus with his sleigh and reindeer to the many surrounding elements: trees, stars, balls, elves.

5. Disney In Concert

Among the concerts worth mentioning in this new weekend, Disney In Concert: The Sound of Magic at the Milan Auditorium, a new celebration that tells the story of 100 years of magic of the cartoons most loved by children, played by the Symphony Orchestra.

6. Christmas concert in the Cathedral

The Christmas concert, with the majestic sound of the Cathedral Organ as the protagonist will hold on Saturday at the majestic Duomo Cathedral, right on the heart of the city.

7. Berlin Calling

Techno music is the protagonist of the Berlin Calling evening at the Circolo Magnolia, a party dedicated to the city that imported the genre from overseas and which has become the symbol of a cultural movement. It holds this Saturday.

8. Artigiano in Fiera

Among the beautiful Christmas markets and villages in the city, the Artigiano in Fiera, which returns to the city with stands from over 80 countries which will display culinary delicacies and many handicraft products where you can buy Christmas gifts, all weekend.

9. The Magic of Christmas

At Carroponte, The Magic of Christmas welcomes adults and children in more than 25 thousand square metres, in a truly enchanted land which in the blink of an eye will transport the public to Lapland, among numerous attractions and the magical House of Santa Claus. It will be happening all weekend.

10. Christmas Markets/Village

In Piazza Città di Lombardia, the Christmas Village envelops the square in a magical atmosphere, between an ice skating rink, a large Christmas tree and the luminous work of art “Gerome XXL” (all weekend).

The Christmas markets are back in Piazza Duomo, featuring crafts, objects and gastronomy (all weekend).

Colors and rides are the protagonists of the Village of Wonders at the Indro Montanelli Gardens, including attractions, crafts and a special skating rink (all weekend).

11. Polenta Festival

In Peschiera Borromeo, last days to discover the Polenta Festival, inside the Christmas Village. The corn flour-based delicacy will be at the center of the tables set up at Parco Borromeo, to brighten the meals of those who meet for greetings (all weekend long).

12. Exhibitions

Among the free events of the weekend, Reincarnations of Shadows at Pirelli Hangar Bicocca – Thao Nguyen Phan’s first solo exhibition in Italy. Internationally recognized for her combined use of painting, moving image and sculpture, the Vietnamese artist creates dreamlike and poetic narratives that trace the history of her country in relation to contemporary environmental and social changes (all weekend).

The Lego exhibition at the Permanente Museum, among pirate galleons and glimpses of medieval Rome, to play and test your inventiveness (all weekend).

The El Greco exhibition continues at Palazzo Reale, a large and unprecedented exhibition project dedicated to the great Greek painter, Jimmy Nelson. Humanity, with 65 works by the great photographer and the new exhibition dedicated to Goya (all weekend).

An immersive exhibition at the Mil – Next Museum in Sesto San Giovanni, where it will be possible to enter the paintings and touch the colours of Klimt’s beautiful works (all weekend).

Wildlife Photographer of The Year continues in the spaces of Superstudio Più, the most famous nature photography exhibition in the world, which returns to the city (all weekend).

At Mudec, Van Gogh’s works show an unprecedented path thanks to the collection of paintings and drawings of the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, in the Netherlands (all weekend). The painter is also the protagonist of Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience at Lampo Scalo Farini, a surprising journey among the brushstrokes of one of the greatest artistic geniuses of the 19th century, among fields of sunflowers and almond trees in bloom (all weekend).

It’s the last weekend to discover Gravity Equilibrium at the Idroscalo, one of the most daring and extreme circuses in the world, with an unmissable show of water games (all weekend).

At the Teatro degli Arcimboldi, however, the Orchestra Italiana del Cinema presents the Italian premiere of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in Concert (Saturday and Sunday).

The two days of celebration of Sant’Ambrogio, patron saint of the city, and of the Immaculate Conception, respectively 7 and 8 December, are the beginning of the Christmas period for Milan and an occasion full of events. The city experiences its traditional events, from the “premiere” of the Teatro alla Scala to the “Oh bej! Oh bej!”

It is one of the most evocative periods to visit Milan, taking part in events that no Milanese would ever want to miss!

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