The Most Important Italian Holidays
Italian holidays are comprised of some of the common international ones--like Christmas and New Year's--plus some which are typically their own. These made-in-Italy holidays are a combination of religious, political and social celebrations. We have listed them here by date and have also provided the Italian name for the holiday so you'll know just what to call it when speaking to your Italian friends!
1. Capodanno (New Year, January 1st)
The first day of the New Year is an official holiday in Italy, as it is in most other parts of the world. New Year's Eve (December 31st) is also known as the Night of St. Sylvester in Italy.
2. Befana (Epiphany- January 6th)
This is the last holyday of the Christmas festivities. In Italy schools and regular business resume after the 6th of January and all decorations are put away. The Epiphany celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings to the stable where newborn Jesus is staying with His parents. Of course, the Magi come bearing gifts. In Italian tradition, the Befana is the one who brings gifts on January 6th. The Befana is and lady very similar to a benevolent witch. Common gifts that she leaves for children include sweets and candies, as well as toys. Children who were bad throughout the year will only receive, the tradition says, charcoal.
3. Carnevale (Mardi Gras-Carnival)
Carnevale in Italy usually lasts about 20 days or so and ends on Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday. Carnevale is the period of relaxation and partying before the beginning of Lent, which extends for 40 days, until Easter. Children dress up in costumes and cities organize major parades, especially in Venice and Viareggio. Special sweets are baked, such as castagnole and frappe. As Easter changes every year, Carnival doesn't have a set date either.
4. Pasqua (Easter)
This is the most important Catholic celebration and it is meant to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The observance of Easter usually lasts the entire weekend, starting with Thursday night, which would have been the night of Jesus' arrest. Holy or Good Friday is the day that commemorates Jesus' crucifixion, Saturday is spent in mourning with no festivities or fancy food allowed, and Sunday is the day for the celebration of the resurrection. Bells resound throughout Italy on Easter Sunday to mark the event. Easter Monday (Angel's Monday, or Pasquetta, Little Easter) is also an official holiday.
5. April 25, Liberation Day
This is the official date that Italians celebrate their freedom from the fascist dictatorship. It is a very controversial day, and many don't fully support the meaning and idea behind it. It is more generally considered the day of the end of World War Two in the country.
6. May 1, Labor Day
Another very controversial holiday in Italy is Labor Day. While it should be a nice celebration to remember all workers, it often turns into a very politically oriented day, where social and union agendas reign supreme. This often reduces what should be a great day spent with family and friends into a day full of propaganda.
7. June 2, La Festa della Repubblica (The day of the Republic)
The Italian Republic was born on this day, right after a very controversial referendum between the Monarchy and Republic in 1946. The celebration is very folkloristic and it takes places right next to the Coliseum in one of the most beautiful areas of Rome. On this day it is common to have a long parade of all the people in uniform that work to protect the country, from the army to the police, from the navy to the firefighters. All heads of state are present and the event is televised.
8. Ferragosto (August 15th)
Originally a pagan Roman holiday, it has now became a Catholic celebration for the Virgin Mary. The holiday occurs in August, when most Italians are already vacationing and traveling, but it is still very much celebrated and is a great excuse for family and friends to gather together during the summer.
9. Ognissanti and Giorno dei Morti (All Saints- All Souls' day, November 1st and 2nd)
In Catholic tradition, All Saints Day celebrates and remembers all worshipped saints. On the following day, it is the souls of all the departed to be remembered. Both days are typically spent honoring those who left us, and great care is taken to clean and tidy up grave sites and tombs, then decorated with beautiful flowers, usually chrysantemums. The spirit of this day is somehow in contrast with the pagan rituals that led the Celtics to celebrate Halloween. Indeed, Halloween has never been an Italian holiday although through American movies, commercialization and marketing it is starting to have more of a presence in the country with events like costume parties often held around the country.
10. L'Immacolata Concezione, the Immaculate Conception (December 8th)
This day is entirely dedicated to the Virgin Mary, her purity and her relevance as mother of Jesus. While many often refer to Jesus' birth as the Immaculate Conception this is actually incorrect, as in the Catholic Church the Immaculate Conception actually refers to the fact that Mary herself was conceived without the stain of Original Sin. The Pope celebrates the Virgin every year on this date in Piazza di Spagna, right in front of the Spanish Embassy. This day is an introduction to the impending Christmas holidays.
11. Natale, Christmas (December 25th)
Christmas is Christmas everywhere, a holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Families gather to exchange gifts on the night of the 24th and then they celebrate the 25th with a big lunch. Christmas trees and nativity scenes (presepe) are the most used decorations, much like in the U.S.
12. Santo Stefano (December 26th)
The day after Christmas is also an important religious holiday, celebrating St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church. This is also the last official holiday of the year.