Italy shares most of its holidays with the western world such as Christmas and New Year’s Eve or the scary festival of Halloween. However, the country has its own set of unique Italian holidays that are cherished by the locals and celebrated with lots of joy and festivity. Celebrating life in all its paradoxes, plan your travel to Italy during any of these festivals to experience the warmth and joy of the same.
Epiphany: Celebrated on the sixth of January every year, the day marks the original date of birth of Jesus. However, when the church recognized the December 25 as Christmas, the day came to be recognized as the day when the three wise men offered the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to baby Jesus. The day also celebrates his baptism by John the Baptist and Jesus’ first miracle hat he performed at the wedding in Cana. The day, being the twelfth day after Christmas, officially marks the end of holiday season in Italy. Another popular part of this day is the holy witch Befana eagerly awaited by the children. Originated from a fairy tale about a woman flying on a broom bringing presents to children on this day, much like the Santa Claus on Christmas, though she does so in search of baby Jesus, Befana is an inseparable part of the day’s celebrations across the country. However, nowhere in the country is the day observed with such spirit as in Rome. Parades are organized, schools and offices are closed and this legendary town comes alive on this day. Awaited as much as Christmas, the day is an important holiday in the religious calendar of Italy.
Carnevale: Popularly known for its Mardi Gras festival, Italy comes alive during this 10 day carnival time. Traditionally considered to be a time dedicated to masquerade balls, parades and music and revelry, it is the period of partying and relaxation before the start of the 40 day long Lent that ends only at Easter. Having roots in ancient pagan celebrations, the festival has been celebrated for centuries in the country with the oldest documents regarding the same dating back to May 2, 1268. Nowadays, mischief and pranks are a part and parcel of the festival. Special food is prepared for the carnival with each region making its own unique fare. Several celebrations of this carnival are world famous and attract thousands of tourists every year to join in the revelry. These include the Venice Carnival (considered to be one of the most romantic big festivals of Europe), Storico Carnevale di Ivrea (famous for its ‘battle of oranges’ when people pelt each other with fruits) and the Carnevale di Viareggio (held on four consecutive weekends featuring top politicians, actors and performers).
Easter: One of the most important Christian celebrations, Easter commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The festival, also known as Pasqua in local language, lasts for an entire weekend with the proceedings starting from Thursday itself. Thursday marks the day of Jesus’ arrest with the following Friday to be Good Friday or the day that marks the crucifixion of Christ. Saturday is spent in mourning with no festivities allowed and no rich food made in the house. It is the Sunday that marks the celebration of the resurrection with bells from various churches resounding whole of the Italy. Easter Monday, also called as Pasquetta, Little Easter or Angel’s Monday is a national holiday throughout the country.
Liberation Day: Celebrated every year on 25th of April, Liberation Day marks the liberation of Italy by Allied Troops during World War II. Holding an important place in the lives of the local Italians, the day marks the independence of the country. It was during the World War II that Italy came to be considered by Nazi Germany’s new enemy after its surrender. This secular holiday is celebrated in the honour of all the soldiers and civilian victims of Allied bombings and atrocities that were committed by the Nazis during their bitter retreat from this territory.
International Workers Day: Celebrated around the world as May Day or Labor Day on 1st of May, Not just a holiday for the workers, this day is an important day in the political calendar of Italy as most of the paties hit the streets and protest for their cause on this day. Even though it may be a protest, the atmosphere is quite festive and healthy like a friendly street fair. However, the highlight of the day is the climax that takes place in the form of a free music concert of Piazza San Giovanni in Rome where some of the best and the most famous of the Italian singers and performers along with many celebrated foreign stars perform in front of a festive audience.
Republic Day: On 2nd of June, whole of Italy comes together to celebrate the day when the country voted to abolish monarchy and become a republic in 1946. A key event in Italian contemporary history, the country was previously ruled by House of Savoy, supporters and allies of Benito Mussolini. It was due to this alliance that the general public became hostile to the ruling family and exiled them as a punishment. A popular referendum was held in 1946, the results of which made Italy a republic with an elected Constituent Assembly. The exile of the royal family too was ended very recently. However, the high point of the day is the parade of Armed Forces held in Rome in all its glory and design.
Ferragosto: An Italian holiday celebrated on 15th of August, Ferragosto or Assumption Day is one of the best loved holidays in the calendar. Honouring Mary’s Assumption to Heaven wherein she sits beside her son Jesus according to Catholic belief, the day is marked with celebrations and prayers in the name of Holy Mary showing thanks and support. During the ancient times, the day marked a celebration introduced by Emperor Augustus in 18 BC to celebrate harvest and end of a long period of long intense agricultural labour. Whole of the country shuts down on this day. In addition to religious places and churches, tourist areas and locations come alive with parties and celebrations by people looking for a break from the routine life.
All Saints’ Day: Strongly associated with the Catholic Church, All saints Day is celebrated on first of November while the All Souls Day on 2nd of November. Celebrating the memory of every Catholic saint and martyr, whether known or unknown, the day is centred on the remembrance of those who have departed from this world. A national holiday in the Italian calendar, the day commemorates those who have attained beatific vision in Heaven. The following day remembers those who have departed but their souls are yet to be purified for them to attain their heavenly abode. The two days are considered as a continuum by most who spend these days reflecting and remembering those friends and family who have left this world.
The Immaculate Conception: Celebrating the solemn belief in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the day celebrates one of the most important feasts of the Roman Catholic Church. Taking place on December 8th, the day is considered to be a general Holy Day of Obligation. Those who are faithful and religious attend the mass to pray and commemorate holy Mary who was graced by God to lead a life free of any kind of sins and suffering.
Christmas: December brings about the frenzy of Christmas along with the colourful festivities and celebrations. Marking the birth of Holy Jesus, the day is celebrated worldwide by Christians with lots of zeal and fervour. The day also marks the start of the twelve days of Christmas celebrations wherein the people come together with their friends and families to celebrate.
St Stephen’s Day: Celebrated on 26th of December, the day after Christmas, St Stephen’s Day honours the first martyr for the Newborn king, Stephen. Part of the twelve days of Christmas, the feast of St Stephen’s is an opportunity for people to come home and enjoy some time with their families and loved ones.
In addition to these popular holidays, there are many local city saints’ day and fiestas celebrated in the respective cities even though they are not recognized nationwide. August in itself can be considered to be one long holiday as everyone escapes the hot weather by leaving the city and retreating to countryside or the sea. People travel, rest and enjoy life in general during this month. Other best known local celebrations of the country include:
- 24th June: St John the Baptist honoured by Turin, Florence and Genoa.
- 29th July: St Peter and Paul honoured by Rome
- 15th July: St Rosalia honoured by Palermo
- 19th September: St San Gennaro honoured by Naples
- 4th October: St San Petronio celebrated by Bologna and countrywide celebrations for national patron protector Saint Francis of Assisi
- 3rd November: San Giusto honoured by Trieste
- 7th December: Milan honors one of the key founders of Roman Catholic Church, St Ambrose
- 21st November: Venice celebrates its patron saint St Mark