Italian Traditions and Celebrations

Most Italians spend their weekends celebrating their food, art, and culture, festivals are therefore an ideal way to get in tune with Italian culture. Here you’ll find an appetiser of some of the things to see and do throughout the year in Italy.

What to Celebrate

Assumption Day (Ferragosto)

Ferragosto, August 15, is one of the most important Catholic holidays across Europe, and particularly in Italy, when they celebrate Mary being raised upto heaven by God.

All shops and businesses are closed, and most Italians will head for the beach, so stay clear of routes to the coast. However, if you do want to go out and celebrate there are numerous events in every region, which often include a procession and music, accompanied by lots of local food (and wine). One good example is Montepulciano (in Tuscany), which holds an historical pageant and games, where a procession of effigies are carried through the streets of this beautiful hill-town at night ending in a firework display.

Christmas in Italy

Whilst Christmas trees and festive street lighting are slowly becoming more popular in Italy, the main focus of decorations continues to be the Nativity scene (presepe), with almost every church and piazza having one. Christmas Markets (Mercatino di Natale) are also becoming common in Italy, of course not as big as in Germany, they can be found in major cities, and the larger towns.

Although Father Christmas (Babbo Natale) is awaited by Italian children on Christmas Eve, they also look forward to a visit from a friendly witch (La Befana), who leaves sweets for good children (and coal for naughty ones), on Epiphany, in memory of when the Three Wise Men gave baby Jesus their gifts.

Traditionally, a meatless dinner is eaten on Christmas eve with the family, but in parts of southern Italy a seven fishes dinner is enjoyed, with meat reserved for Christmas day. In Tuscany the meal starts off with small snacks (crostini) and cold meats (salumi). This is followed by pasta (cappelletti) in broth and a main course of roasted meat with all the trimmings. To finish the feast Italian Christmas cake (panettone), as well as nuts, and don’t forget the coffee must be expresso (espresso)!

Festivals and Spectacles

It’s difficult to find a day in the year when there is not a festival (sagra) going on somewhere in Italy. North or south, in big towns or small villages, the Italians will find an excuse to celebrate something, and more likely than not it will be based around the joy of eating. A few notable examples are:

Sagra del Pesce, held in the spring at Camogli near Genoa (in Liguria), in honour of St. Fortunato, (the patron saint of fishermen), when the whole town comes together to fry up fresh fish in an enormous pan and distribute it to all.

Festa del Lambrusco; celebrated every July at Albinea (in Emilia-Romagna), the local fizzy, red wine is sampled with specialities from the region even Italians acknowledge as being the best for food, such as fried puffs of pasta dough (gnocco fritto), or a savoury pie filled with spinach (erbazzone).

On the day after Ferragosto (16th August), Siena holds its second Palio of the year, (the first having been held on July 2nd). This medieval horse race around the main square (piazza del campo) is contested by bareback horseriders each representing one of the city districts (Contrade), the aim is to win the silk banner (palio). If you want to see this spectacle, you better arrive early to bag a good spot, but be prepared for a long wait, and don’t blink when the starting gun goes off, as the race is all over in under two minutes.

Calendar of Celebrations

Date Celebration
January 1 New Years Day (Capodanno)
January 6 Epiphany (Epifania)
April 9 Easter Monday (Lunedì di Pasqua)
April 25 Liberation Day  End of World War II in Italy
(Liberazione Italia)
May 1 Labour Day (Festa del lavoro)
June 2 Republic Day  Birth of the Italian Republic
(Festa della Repubblica Italia)
August 15 Assumption Day (Ferragosto)
November 1 All Saints Day (Ognissanti)
December 8 Immaculate Conception Day
(Immacolata Concezione)
December 25 Christmas Day (Natale)
December 26 St Stephens Day (Santo Stefano)

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