There are two big Christmas markets in Milan every year: The fiera artigianale (artisan fair) and the O Bej O Bej outdoor Christmas market.
The fiera artigianale is enormous. Huge indoor pavilions separated by country or region of the world hold hundreds of booths selling artisanal (more or less) goods from all over the world. The plus is that it’s indoors, the downside is that I, like at least on 1 million of the other Italians, only had Saturday available. And I wasn’t trying to get lost in that crowd.
Instead, we went to the O Bej O Bej (let’s get real, it was my excuse to go see the Christmas lights and the Duomo’s Christmas tree).
The O Bej O Bej is Milan’s traditional Christmas market. Said to have started as a way to honor Saint Ambrose (indeed, it starts on December 7th, the feast day of Sant’Ambrogio) the real hype came hundreds of years later, when Giannetto Castiglione, sent to Milan by the pope to reignite devotion and faith to the church, arrived on the feast day to give presents to the Milanese children. (Nothing like buying people’s faith and devotion!) In fact, “O Bej O Bej” comes from the Milanese dialect used by the children when they saw the market for “Oh beautiful! Oh beautiful!”
If the fiera artigianale represents every corner of the world, it’s safe to say that the O Bej O Bej hold tight to a traditional time and corner of Milan. That being said, I wasn’t super impressed. The atmosphere didn’t feel festive (not like those German Christmas markets – they know how to do it!) and the booths weren’t selling anything of much interest. Actually, the only thing that seemed appropriate for the occasion was the food.
You can always count on Italy for good food. The variety of sweets, breads and cakes typically sold during Christmas markets is enticing enough that you’re likely to leave with a bigger pant size and a big smile – and for that the O Bej O Bej didn’t disappoint!