If you’ve ever been in Venice on the last weekend before Christmas you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’ve had one too many mulled wines as you’ll start to see double. Or maybe triple. In fact you’ll be seeing Santa Clauses, or Babbo Natale to the Italians, absolutely everywhere! But I’m not talking about the usual trinkets and decorations in the shops. I mean living and breathing Santas, literally hundreds of them, all over the city. And not just on land either. Old BN has clearly been taking rowing lessons over the summer as the Grand Canal is clogged with beardy ones in red. But fear not, you’re not going Christmas crazy! Venetians just love dressing up for a spot of fun and fund-raising!
First up is the Regata dei Babbi Natale alla valesana organised by the Ca’ Foscari university. The regata is in its 6th year and all are welcome to join in the race or water parade that follows. Boats and crews come in all shapes and sizes from kayaks to gondolas and dragon boats to traditional flat-bottomed caorline boats.
Everyone gathers around 9.30am to get dressed up and to dress up their boats! They row down to the starting point in St Mark’s Basin (in front of the Doge’s Palace) around 10am with the race and parade kicking off at 10.30am so you have two chances to catch the Babbo Natale crews on the Canale Grande. The racers row from St Mark’s to Ca’ Foscari, in the Dorsoduro district, where prizes are awarded and then everyone tucks into the well-deserved refreshments!
If you prefer terra firma, or, like me, left university “a couple of years ago” (ahem!) you could join the locals for a Sunday morning fun run instead. Santas come in a variety of forms from children to adults, athletes to Sunday walkers and even dogs! All are welcome for a €10 fee – half of which buys your outfit, whilst the other half goes to a local cancer charity called Avapo Venezia onlus.
Kids, amateurs and the enthusiastic fun-runners follow a 5km route from the Rialto round to the Castello district for a well-deserved slab of pannetone and a glug of mulled wine at the Al Refolo cicchetteria on Via Garibaldo! Or if you’re more of an athletic type, like Nordic walking and haven’t got little ones in tow, you can do another lap finishing after 9km at the Rialto market to claim your refreshments. For 2 hours the city’s streets are packed with hundreds of Babbo Natales adding a spot of colour and festive fun to the wintry morning. Keep an eye out for them!
And finally, if you missed the students’ regata on Saturday, why not take up position on the Accademia bridge around 10am on Sunday to wait for the Corteo Acqueo Di Babbi Natale water parade. Incidentally, it’s also a great spot to catch the fun runners who should be crossing the bridge shortly before the parade goes underneath it – two birds, one stone!
Around 100 Babbi Natale take to the Grand Canal once again to glide gently from St Mark’s basin, past the church of the Salute, under the Accademia bridge, round past Ca Foscari university and on to the Rialto market where refreshments await the tired rowers!
So if you’re thinking about taking up a hobby for the new year why not get your running shoes on or try a spot of rowing so you can join in with all the fun! In the meantime Babbo Natale’s work is over for another year but I hope you have all enjoyed the revelries. Leave me a comment with your favourite festive memories and let me take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy Christmas! Buon Natale!