Yesterday in Milan I learned about a new holiday (well new to me that is) St Lucia's Day or St Lucy's Day. This is not celebrated throughout Italy only in certain areas. Instead of being visited by St Nicholas on the evening of the 24th, on the evening of December 12th children put out sweets for St Lucia who will come and visit during the evening delivering presents to all the good little girls and boys. The similarities between St Nick and St Lucy as outlined at wikipedia are quite striking, I haven't done enough research yet to determine the origins of these two holidays.
St Lucia's Day isn't marked by a day off from work or school it's a normal day like any other except before leaving for the day you get to open presents. I've heard that tearing kids away from the toys to go to school can be a difficult matter. To me the best part of Christmas was always spending the day playing with all my new toys afterwards.
And speaking of St Nick, there is a slight difference to the legend in the UK and possibly other parts of Europe but I can't speak for that. According to legend St Nick does not reside in the North Pole but instead he lives in Lapland. Personally I like the idea of him living in a real location that you can visit. Compare a visit to Lapland on Google Maps to that of the North Pole Do a search on Google for Lapland and you'll see the long list of holiday options and tours that exist.