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Holidays in Italy
A List of Italian Holidays and Their Meanings
Many of Italian holidays are shared with all the Western world, think Christmas or New Year's eve. Others have been imported, like Halloween. Others are typical Italian, like the National holidays or Epiphany.
Let's make a quick review of the main, less known abroad holidays. Please use the menu in the left to go and read articles about the holidays of your interest.
Celebrated on the sixth of January, it originally began as a celebration of the birth of Jesus, and is still celebrated as that in
the Eastern Orthodox Church. However, when the Catholic Church decided to celebrate Christmas on December 25th instead, the meaning of the holiday changed. Greek for "miracle," Epiphany came to be known as a celebration of three important events that took place early in Jesus' life: his visit with the three magi, his baptism by John the Baptist, and the first miracle he performed at the wedding in Cana.
In Italy, Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season, the literal Twelfth Day of Christmas. As the saying goes, "l'Epifania tutte le feste porta via", which can be rougly translated in "Epiphany takes all the holidays away", meaning that with day ends the long period of celebrations that began with New Year's eve.
On the sixth of January children wake up to find presents from the Befana, an ancient Santa Claus-like figure with the appearence of an old, benevolent hag, complete of flying broomstick whose name means "giver of gifts". Just like Santa Claus, she drops through chimneys to fill stockings up with toys and candy. In some traditions, the Befana leaves toyes and candies for good children and pieces of coal for bad children. Some parents use coal shaped sweets as a friendly advice for their children, meaning "next year behave better". The entire family then ventures out to take part in a giant street fair, where they buy more gifts, usually earthenware products. In Rome there's a popular street market in Piazza Navona during Christmas and it's one of the preferred locations to buy gifts for Epiphany.
Epiphany Celebration Italy.
Celebrated on April 25th, it commemorates the liberation of Italy by Allied troops in the Second World War. After Italy surrendered, Nazi Germany considered it as a new enemy and intensified the anti partigian operations against Italian freedom fighters. The holiday is meant to honor all those who died during the war, from soldiers fighting overseas to civilian victims of Allied bombings and atrocities committed during Nazi Germany's bitter retreat from its former ally's territory. The lives of those who served as partisans in the Italian Resistance are especially honored.
May 1st is Labor Day for most of the world. In Italy, it is not just a workers holiday, but a day for left political parties to hit the streets and protest their various causes. The atmosphere is usually festive, like one big street fair, however protests can sometimes get carried away and become a little too rowdy. The big end of every First of May celebrations is the big, free music concert held in Piazza San Giovanni in Rome, where the most important Italian singers and many foreign guest stars perform before a festive audience.
FESTIVAL OF THE REPUBLIC
June 2nd marks the day in 1946 when Italy voted in a referendum to abolish the monarchy and become a republic. Support for the monarchy had plunged because the king of Italy had supported Mussolini. So hostile was the public, that the royal family was exiled from Italy as punishment, an exile that only ended recently. The high moment of the festival is the parade of the Armed Forces in Rome.
Next to Christmas, Easter, and New Years, Ferragosto is one of the most celebrated holidays in Italy. Celebrated on the fifteenth of August, it celebrates the rise of Mary up to heaven to join her son Jesus, taking her place by his side to look after those of us remaining here on Earth. It is a day of great festivities with celebrations in the streets and prayers to the Virgin Mary for thanks and support. All of Italy shuts down to celebrate Ferragosto. During the years, just like Christman, the religious side of the holiday has been overtaken by the mondane side. Now in most part of Italy, especially vacation places, Ferragosto is a sort of second New Year's eve, with parties and celebrations.
The festival of All Saints takes place on November 2nd. It is celebrated in honor of all the Catholic saints and martyrs, known and unknown. It is also a time to reflect on those who have passed in general, a Memorial Day of sorts.
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th is generally a Holy Day of Obligation. The faithful are required to attend Mass, where they commemorate when Mary was graced by God to lead a life completely free of sin.
FEAST OF ST. STEPHEN
The Feast of St. Stephen is celebrated on December 26th, the day after Christmas. It is part of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and marks the day of St. Stephen, the first martyr for the newborn king.
OTHER FEAST DAYS
Individual cities in Rome celebrate the feast days of their patron saints.
- June 24. Florence, Genoa, and Turin honor St. John the Baptist.
- June 29, Rome honors Saints Peter and Paul.
- July 15, Palermo honors St. Rosalia, a pious young woman credited for saving the city from plague in 1624.
- September 19, Naples honors San Gennaro, a saint and martyr who died while visiting Christians imprisoned by Rome and forced to work as slaves in sulphur mines for the crime of being Christian.
- October 4, Bologna honors its patron saint, San Petronio.
- November 3, Trieste honors San Giusto, who is also known as St. Just.
- December 7th, Milan honors St. Ambrose, one of the key founders of the early Roman Catholic Church.
- November 21st, Venice honors St. Mark. His feast day is actually April 25th, but since that is also Liberation Day, the city gives its patron saint his own holiday in November instead.
The month of August itself can be described as one long holiday. Dating back to Roman times, it has been common for everybody in Italy to escape the hottest time of the year by going on vacation. It is a time for people to rest, travel, and to just celebrate life in general.