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Holidays in Italy – Italian National Holidays

Holidays in Italy – Italian National HolidaysHolidays in Italy bring with them a range of wonderful events and experiences. Building your trip to Italy around one or more of these Italian national holidays is the surest way to see the real Italy! Italian public holidays are well observed though, so be aware that offices and most stores will be closed on the following Italian holidays (museums and restaurants may be the exception, but you should check with them individually):

January 1 – New Year’s Day
Celebrating in Italy means fireworks. Lots of them, designed by experts who are proudly named on festival posters. Fireworks over the water is the highlight of capodanno (top of the year). Head for the coast if the crowd celebrations in Rome don’t appeal to you. Check out the beautiful Gaeta, Sorrento, Riccioni… in fact any place near the coast, and that’s most of Italy. Fireworks and festivals go hand in hand and displays reflected in the moving water really add to the magic of this very first of all public holidays in Italy for the year.

Celebrating also means food. If you are spending an Italian holiday in a rural village look for the street parties and be sure to sample the wonderful flavors. Don’t forget to try the traditional festival foods of the local area – these vary from region to region. Free concerts, burning effigies, laughter and song, it’s all happening on any Italian public holiday. Remember to wrap up warmly; everything takes place outdoors, but in Italy you’ll really start the new year with a bang!

January 6 – Epiphany
You’d better “be good” because this date marks the last of the 12 days of Christmas. As tradition has it, La Befana, the old woman on a broomstick, will be flying in on the night of the 5th to bring gifts to children who have been good and lumps of coal to those who have not. It is also the end of the short Christmas holiday period. Services return to normal soon after this date. Always check train timetables carefully as many commuter trains do not run over the Christmas and New Year period. Schools, universities and many businesses are closed until 6 January. Look for the asterisk beside train service details and be sure that you understand what the symbols beside the times on the train timetables actually mean.

Palm Sunday Is celebrated in many locations with the blessing of olive branches which are then taken home to every family. Traditionally if peace needs to be made then a twig from this dried branch is given to each party as a symbol of forgiveness and the end of the argument.

Following the Stations of the Cross can be as simple as a procession in prayer, lead by the priest who stops at fourteen points along the way, whether these be marked by statues and crosses or not. Try to find a mass in a local village to really experience the traditions of Italy.

Thursday, Good Friday, Saturday and Sunday
“Natale con I suoi, Pasqua con ci vuoi” Despite the adage “Christmas with family, Easter with whomever you like” Easter Sunday is usually spent with family and Easter Monday is the day to go out with friends.

You’ll probably be surprised that Good Friday is not a national holiday in Italy, but a work and school day. Despite this, the rituals and celebrations of Easter can begin as early as Thursday night with ceremonies and processions in every parish. If you are planning to be out of the main cities at Easter check local Comune diaries for live enactments of the Passion of Christ. Consider being at Matera, where the Mel Gibson film “The Passion” was made against the backdrop of the ancient sassi, or see the play in a hillside village where the actors arrive on horseback or in genuine Roman chariots, as Christ carries his cross up into the hills for the final scene.

Easter Monday
“Pasquetta”, even the name of the day is joyous! Celebrating the resurrection of Chirst, this is traditionally a day spent with friends. Picnics in the mountains or near a river with a panino, some prosciutto, wonderful cheeses and of course some vino from the local enoteca are perfect. Pasquetta (litte Easter) is a day to relax, take a deep breath, and just enjoy being in Italy. Do remember to shop ahead for your picnic though, in some parts of Italy you wont find anything open on this public holiday.

April 25 – Liberation Day
This day marks the liberation of Italy in World War II with formal ceremonies in every local commune. Visitors may choose to mark this day by visiting any of the many military cemeteries in Italy. These can be located easily by searching the internet using the key words “military cemetery Italy” and the country or location you are most interested in. Key cemeteries to include are located in Sicily, Nettuno, Cassino, Anzio, Florence and Rome, but there are many more to be found.

May 1 – Labor Day
In 1888 Italians in Livorno joined protests for workers rights, targeting American ships in port, when they received news of the events happening in Chicago. The Festa dei Lavaratori in Italy was born. Watch Cataldo Balducci’s 1913 recording of the Labor Day festival march in Andria, Puglia as workers celebrate Labor Day.

During the times of Fascism there was no Italian national holiday to celebrate Labor Day as the commemoration was suppressed. After WWII the Labor Day public holiday was reinstated in Italy on 1 May 1945. In recent times the date has been marked by various presentations, demonstrations and speeches throughout the country. The biggest Labor Day festival is in Rome, where over five hundred thousand gather for the massive concert, Concerto del Primo Maggio. Many famous bands participate in this prestigious event. If huge excited crowds are not your thing, plan to settle into a quiet bar and watch the event on Rai Tre.

June 2 – Festa della Repubblica
If you like to see people in smart uniform with every button and boot gleaming then this is the day to be in Italy. The parades for the Festa della Repubblica mark the choice of how Italy would be governed after the fall of Fascism during WWII. Rome, as near as you can get to the Quirinale, is the place to be. Flags fly in every little village and town, but to see the air shows with the colours of the flag streaming across the sky, and buildings lit up at night in red, white and green, then any street close to the centre of government will see you immersed in a celebration of national pride. It could be hot, and the shops will be closed, but bars will be open. The water in Rome is potable unless you see the skull and crossbones poison sign above the tap. Take a water bottle and keep it topped up at any of the many famous fountains of Rome.

This month sees the beginning of free outdoor concerts, festivals, and the “sagre” or food festivals, where you can join with local people celebrating different food specialities, enjoying local products for minimal cost. There is a sagra for every type of food or pasta that you can imagine. In particular look out for tarfufi (truffles) lumache (snails) and castagne (chestnuts). These sagra and festivals continue well into September, and some (like chestnuts) are in October or November and are often combined with festivals for the new wine. Look for the label DOC to be sure that you are getting the best of local products wherever you are.

July 2 – Il Palio
Il Palio is a horse race held in Siena every year on both 2 July and 16 August. This is a major event in the walled city and you must purchase your tickets early. Make sure you allow enough time in Siena to visit all of this beautiful town, and don’t miss the Libreria Piccolomini in the Duomo, the home of some of the best preserved frescoes in Italy.

August 15 – Assumption of the Virgin
This event coincides with Ferragosto, the official holiday period. For most people this means their annual holiday and that causes a run on the cash flow machines. If you are in a smaller town you might want to visit the Bancomat the day before, so you are not spending the day looking for well hidden machines. In historic places like Ostuni or Ravello where the beautiful towns are preserved the cash flow machines can be hidden behind doors or in foyers and easily missed. If you are asking a local for directions to a bancomat jot down all the destro (right) dritto (straight), and sinistra (left) instructions, because if you are expecting to find a highly visible machine you might miss it altogether. (Other useful direction words are vai = you go, prendi = you take).

Around August 15 (or the week before), Italy goes to the beach, Rome empties of locals, and only the tourists are in town. Don’t risk arriving anywhere without a booking during this period, every bed is taken.

November 1 – All Saints’ Day
This celebration begins on the evening of October 31, All Hallows Eve. Halloween customs are mixed with the religious and earthly; harvest festivals take place, and the new wine is sampled.

November 2 – All Souls Day
Don’t be caught out thinking that only November 1 is a public holiday, as many things stay closed for All Souls Day. This date sees many “pont” or bridge weekends, where extra days are taken around the weekend to travel home to visit family in the cemeteries. Roads are extremely busy, and you need to take special care near cemeteries where crowds of people come and go all the daylight hours, making their annual pilgrimage to visit their family graves. Fruit stalls turn into flower vendors overnight, and red candles line the roads and footpaths. This is a time to really step back and consider the spiritual side of the Italian heritage.

December 6
This is not a national public holiday, but in Bari where it is a holiday and festival you can tell St Nicholas exactly what you would like for Christmas when you visit the beautiful church dedicated to this interesting and much loved saint.

December 8 – Day of Immaculate Conception
Celebrated with mass, this day also brings the beautiful presepi, or nativity scenes, into churches, local displays and private homes. Traditionally the most sought-after figures for the presepi are hand made works of art in terracotta. Beginning in the 13th Century, churches, villages and families vie to have the best presepi on display. Work continues on these all year, involving the most intricate constructions with tiny lights, moving parts and sometimes even running water. Be sure to look for local signs directing you to a display, or visit a church in this period to admire the various exhibits. For an exceptional display at other times of the year visit La Reggia, the palace at Caserta, where a large collection of animals and figures for nativity scenes is on permanent display.

December 24 –
This busy working day is also the day when families come together for the most sacred meal, the Vigilia di Natale. Sometimes referred to as the Festa dei Sette Peschi, the number of fish courses can reach as many as 13 in some regions. Anchovies, sardines and squid are often amongst these, and in the south baccalà, salted cod, is almost sure to be served. After the meal families attend mass, waiting for midnight to mark the birth of Christ.

December 25 – Christmas Day
Food and family are the focus today.

December 26 – Santo Stefano
The stories of Good King Wenceslas and the martyr St Stephen become intertwined on this day. But for the traveller a warm cappuccino and a slice of panforte from Siena might have more appeal than being stoned to death or murdered at a feast. By now you will have enjoyed so much Christmas panetone that the panforte will be a welcome change.

There are more Italian public holidays to be enjoyed than just the Italian national holidays listed above. Many towns and cities across Italy observe these special dates as public holidays in honor of their patron saints:

April 25 – San Marco (Venice)
June 24 – San Giovanni Battista (Florence, Genoa, Turin)
June 29 – San Pietro and Paolo (Rome)
July 15 – Santa Rosalia (Palermo)
September 19 – San Gennaro (Naples)
October 4 – San Petronio (Bologna)
October 30 – San Saturnino (Cagliari)
November 3 – San Giusto (Trieste)
December 6 – San Nicola (Bari)
December 7 Sant’Ambrogio (Milan)

Plan your Tour of Italy around the Italian National Holidays!