In Milan, the most traditional and most popular of all the events in the Christmas time is the Oh Bej! Oh Bej! Christmas market which, for five centuries, has rung in the Milanese festive season with candies, surprises and of all kinds of gifts. Organized in honour of the city’s patron, Sant’Ambrogio, it is celebrated on December 7th, lasts until the next sunday and it attracts thousands of tourists every year. It is a must-see for both Milanese, tourists and curious. In the market is possible search for the perfect gift or just to enjoy the magical atmosphere of celebration and tradition in the most important weekend before Christmas.
Traditionally it was organized in the streets around the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, but in recent years the market has moved to the Castello Sforzesco (Sforza Castle), like an embrace around one of the city’s most important place of interests. This gives give more space to traders and to the large number of visitors who flock to the stalls every day.
Stalls full of products of all kinds and for all budgets: from bric a brac sellers to florists, artisans, tradesmen with prints and books, masters of wrought iron, copper and brass, plus, crafted toys, sweet vendors, local honey producers, roasted chestnuts and “Firunatt” or “Firòn”, the traditional strings of smoked chestnuts that form long necklaces, a typically Milanese tradition that has now disappeared.
Every year lot of people stroll around the stalls and enjoy the traditional Christmas treats (don’t forget that in Italy it’s now Panettone season!). According to a local who i met on 2018 edition, this is a winter experience not to be missed and the perfect way to get know, love and breath the city just like the Milanese!
But where does the name “Oh Bej! Oh Bej!” come from?
In Milanese dialect “Oh Bej! Oh Bej!” means “Oh beautiful, Oh beautiful”, or “so nice! so nice!” and tradition has it that it was a cry of joy from the children of the city upon seeing the beautiful products on display.
Another version indicates the precise historical moment when this cry was born: the shouts of joy from the Milanese children when, in 1510, they saw the gifts brought to the city by Pope Pius IV’s envoy Giannetto Castiglioni. Giannetto wanted to ingratiate himself with the Milanese, and thus entered the city carrying boxes full of sweets and toys for children.
Thanks to this version, we can images the antiquity of the fair, which dates it back to the late thirteenth-century!
The Fair is one of the oldest traditions of the city. Its origins can be traced back to 1288, when celebrations in honour of the Patron Saint took place near the old Santa Maria Maggiore.
All Photos are mine, from 2018 edition.