Festivals, Celebrations, and Holidays in Italy
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New Years - December 31st to January 1st - The passion and style Italians bring to the fashion world carry into their celebrations of the New Year. Festive ambiance erupts in the cities, towns, and villages from the tip of Sicily to the top of the Italian Alps. New Year’s Eve marks the Feast of Saint Sylvester (La Festa di San Silvestro) when Italians focus on family and friends with a large dinner. The meal is less family-oriented than on Christmas but remains a large part of the holiday, complete with certain dishes popular for their commitment to tradition and symbolism.
Pork ushers in a new year with a commitment to the richness of life. Lentils symbolize money, with each bean representing a coin to bring wealth and prosperity in the coming year. Grapes, a delicious crop harvested late summer and early autumn, embodies frugalness, so Italians who gain their fortune in the next year will spend their money wisely. The custom has ancient roots, deriving from the belief that only a prudent person could have saved a portion of their grape harvest for a celebration of the new year.
Cities, towns, and villages fill with an uproar of excited locals eager to spend their time on amidst the community, with bonfires and light displays filling main piazzas. Fireworks displays fill the sky at midnight for a celebratory exhibition. The farther south you travel in Italy, the grander the fireworks display. Naples provides the largest spectacle in Italy. Larger cities, such as Naples, Bologna, Palermo, Rome, and Milan turn the evening into an outdoor festival, often using pop and rock bands to emphasize the jovial atmosphere.
Southern Italians throw their old crockery out the window at midnight. The custom has transitioned to many locals crashing pots and pans together from their front door to frighten away spirits in the new year. Pay attention to the first person who helps you celebrate after midnight. Custom dictates that someone older or of the opposite sex brings signs of long life or luck in love, respectively. The party carries on early into the morning. Many Italians choose to stay in the main squares or venture to a perfect viewpoint at which to watch the sunrise. New Years Day, also known as Capodanno, is quiet in the morning. Adults sleep late, resting after a long night of festivities.
Trains and buses run on a holiday schedule on December 31st and January 1st. The methods of transportation still run between cities but travel few and far between their normal consistent times. This leads to an overcrowding of train cars and sold out buses. It is better to stay in your location until after the celebration. If you must travel over the New Year, book all your transportation ahead of time; this includes taxis or private transfers, as many people working in local transport also choose to take a break during national holidays.
Epiphany (Epifania) – January 6th – The iconic image of Christmas in the English-speaking western world depicts a child running down the stairs to find presents Santa left in the night, with elegant wrapping glinting beneath a lush tree. Italian children receive their Christmas gifts on the Feast of the Epiphany. The holiday tops the 12th Day of Christmas, when the Three Wise Men reached the manger, bearing gifts for Baby Jesus. While Italy does have a character similar to Santa Clause, who visits on Christmas, it is La Befana from whom the children wait for a visit. La Befana is a witch who travels around Italy on a broomstick on the eve of January 5th, bringing presents to the good girls and boys of the country and lumps of coal to those who have been naughty.
The legend dates back to the Three Wise Men, who stopped at a small shack on the way to the manger to ask for directions. They met an old woman and invited her to join their party. She refused at first, but after seeing the bright light in the sky attempted to follow their path to reach the manger. The woman was lost and never heard from again. Ever since, she travels around on her broomstick on the 11th night of Christmas, bringing gifts to children in the hopes she might one day find the baby for whom she originally set out.
Cities and towns across Italy celebrate the holiday in their own unique way. A procession forms along the wide avenue leading to Vatican City with participants dressed in medieval costumes. Hundreds of people carry symbolic gifts for the pope before the Bishop of Rome leads morning mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. In Florence, the parade Calvacata dei Magi begins at the Pitti Palace in the early afternoon and crosses the Arno River to reach the Duomo. Flag throwers perform in medieval uniforms in Piazza della Signoria, under the shadow of the Palazzo Vecchio.
Smaller towns celebrate with live nativity scenes, with locals donning the costumes of the historical characters involved. Venice holds an annual regatta, with participants dressing like the fabled witch. One of the most notable festivals takes place in Urbania, in the region of . The four-day festival celebrates La Befana when children can visit the witch’s home and snack on confections sold at the seasonal market. The Epiphany is a national holiday and therefore disrupts the normal train and bus schedules. You can avoid the inconvenience by booking any transportation ahead of time or staying in your respective destination to join in the celebrations with the locals.
Flag Day (Giornata Nazionale della Bandiera) – January 7th – The flag is an important symbol of Italy, representing the unification of what was once separate city-states, proud kingdoms, and also occupied territories under Spanish, French, and Austro-Hungarian sovereignties. The Tricolore was originally created as a representation of the Cispadane Republic in the 1790s, which is currently the region of Emilia-Romagna. The red and white represented the French flag, under whose authority the region fell in the 18th century.
The colors also have a deeper meaning. Red represents charity, white symbolizes faith, and green embodies hope. Italy’s Tricolore gained prominence in the mid-19th century when famous general Giuseppe Garibaldi carried the flag during his campaign to unify the country for the first time since the Roman Empire. The symbol continued as sign of a unified Italy under the Kingdom of Savoy, the Social Republic led by Mussolini, and the modern Italian Republic.
A selective part of the Italian Republic celebrates Flag Day with vigor, with the majority of celebrations concentrated in the region of Emilia-Romagna and the cities of Bologna and Reggio Emilia. The most notable ceremony takes place in Rome at 3.15pm, when the Corazzieri, a special branch of the president’s honor guard, performs a changing of the guard in full medieval military regalia, which includes metal breastplates and shimmering helmets decorated with long flowing horse’s tail.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day (Giorno della Memoria) – January 27th – The Italian Republic helped establish the International Holocaust Remembrance Day to coincide with the anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation. Large cities around the country organize ceremonies, public initiatives, meetings, and lessons to provide locals and visitors a chance to reflect on the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany, its supports, and its allies, which included the Social Republic of Italy under the administration of Mussolini. The yearly commemoration also allows Italy to shed light on the lesser-known stories of victims and heroes of the Holocaust through different mediums of storytelling.
Over the years the memorial has brought to the forefront the Foibe, a term symbolically referring to the disappearances or killings of Italian peoples in Yugoslav occupied territories. The annual event also offers insight into the role Italy played during as an ally to Germany, which lasted from 1936 to 1943. Many people from around Italy travel to the national museum of Risiera San Sabba in Trieste, the only concentration camp located on Italian soil. Nazi Germany managed the camp from 1943 to 1945, engaging in the systematic murder of political prisoners and members of the Jewish and LGBT community. Milan also has a popular and moving Shoah Memorial providing exhibits and tours in English and Italian, located in the Central Station once used to transfer deportees away from the prying eyes of the city.
Fair of Saint Orso – January 30th to 31st (2019) – The quiet alpine region of Valle D’Aosta brims with life during the Fair of Saint Orso, which is the largest celebration of its kind in the region. Over 1,000 stalls and stands spread through the historic center of Aosta leading to the town’s historic walls. The festival celebrates an Irish monk who traveled the region handing out wooden sandals to the poor, giving way to a celebration lasting more than a millennium.
Craftspeople bring objects carved from wood, keen on demonstrating their mastery of the material for two days. Local restaurants serve regional specialties. The vendors showcase grolle, a cup with many spouts used for sharing wine, along with mortars and pestles, ladles, and instruments used to remove cream from milk. The most popular items on display are the wooden sandals known as socques. The fashionable footwear resembles clogs made with wooden soles and a leather top. The tradition of the leatherwork dates back to Roman times. Artisans also exhibit other skills over the two days, such as weaving, wrought ironwork, looming, lacework, and how to properly use wicker.
Almond Blossom Festival in Agrigento (Sagra del Mandorlo in Fiore) - March 1st-10th (2019) – Almond blossoms cause a celebratory uproar in the Sicilian city of Agrigento each February. The blossoms connote the spring, with their delicate pink and white buds indicated the warmer weather is not too far behind. The folk festival has spread a message of peace, integration, and cooperation between peoples since 1935. The highlight of the 10-day celebration culminates with song and dance performances accompanying a parade winding through the streets of the city.
The ancient Greek edifices of the Valley of the Temples acts as a backdrop to the special event, with the remains of the seven Doric temples providing an example of the interconnectivity of the world. You can follow the parade through the city and participate in the folk dances taking place along the cobblestone streets and inside the public squares leading to the Temple of Concord, the largest and best-preserved Greek architecture in the ancient city.
Carnival (Carnevale) – February 25th (2020) – Carnival is the most famous holiday of February, conjuring images of Venetian masks, grand regattas, elegant banquets, and a constant celebration of debauchery. The true winter festival has pagan roots and was adapted to fit the Catholic rituals and calendar. The holiday falls on one day each year, but cities across Italy have elongated the celebration into a festival lasting weeks before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Historically people wanted to indulge in sugar, meat, and fats before restricted by a religious diet for 40 days. Children throw confetti in the streets. Pranks and mischief are common in the big cities, giving credence to the phrase, “a Carnevale ogni scherzo vale,” which translates to “anything goes during Carnival.”
Masks have become a symbol of the festivities, beginning from a tradition of hiding one’s face during the mischief, allowing a person to act freely without reprisal from government laws or the reprisals of the gods. This same belief gave way to participants wearing elaborate costumes and participating in masquerade balls in private or public spaces. The festivities gained prominence in the Italy in the 13th century, with visitors traveling from around the world to watch and partake in fabulous costumes, dramatic masks, and captivating ambiance. The tradition drawing people from around the world has only grown over the millennium, with an estimated 3 million people having attended Venice’s Carnival festivities in 2016.
Carnival begins on the holiday known as the Feast of Maries, Festa delle Marie, which began as a Venetian custom when the Doge offered jewels to humble Venetian girls as bridal dowries. Venice begins celebrating two weeks on average before the start date of calendar holiday. Nightly events draw costumed locals and visitors reveling in the cool nights of the city and the ticket-only masked balls and fascinating festivities centered on Piazza San Marco, including a costume contest and the Flight of the Angel, during which an acrobat descends a rope from the Campanile to the Doge’s Palace. Parades take place on the Grand Canal featuring gondolas and children take part in fun activities in the family-friendly neighborhood of Cannaregio.
Areas with equally exciting Carnival celebrations without the crowds of Venice are Viareggio in Tuscany, which utilizes fascinating parades with huge paper mâché caricature floats. Another is Acireale in Sicily, which has one of the most famous celebrations inside of Italy due to the beauty of the allegorical paper mâché and flower floats accentuated by the surrounding baroque architecture. Carnival is not a considered a national holiday, so the train and bus schedules are not affected. However, staying in a city such as Venice during Carnival can be stressful due to the large crowds and limited accommodations. Be sure to book your accommodations and travel to a city known for a grandiose Carnival celebration before arriving in Italy.
The Feast of St. Agatha – February 5th – The celebrations of the Feast of St. Agatha are not well known outside of Catholic communities, however, the holiday draws devout Catholics and non-believers to the Sicilian city of Catania to honor the patron saint and witness one of the world’s most famous religious processions. Saint Agatha lived during the 3rd century AD and remains a popular figure in the hearts and minds of locals of Catania more than 1,700 years later.
The city stops for three days to commemorate the woman, Agatha, who refused the advances of a Roman prefect, resulting in her torture and eventual sentence to life in prison. The festival begins with mass on the dawn of February 3rd. The midday parade carries eleven candle-shaped structure symbolizing historic guilds, connected to the local Senate. The following day members of the church place a statue of St. Agatha and her relics on a 40,000-pound silver carriage. It takes 5,000 men to lift the carriage and carry the emblem down Via San Giuliano as nuns from churches around the city chant. Local officials estimate approximately 1 million people line the streets to participate in the celebrations during the three-day festival.
The Lateran Pacts (Patti Lateranensi) – February 11th – Mussolini signed the Lateran Pacts with the Holy See in 1929. The document offered an alliance between Italy and the Vatican, separating the heart of the Catholic religion into its own independent principality, unattached to the governance in Rome. The pact is named after the Lateran Palace in Rome, where the treaty was signed. The treaty consisted of political, financial, and concordat issues between to the two states, including letting the Church influence public education in Italy. In return, Mussolini received a public coronation through the pope’s recognition of the Kingdom of Italy. The holiday passes without much fanfare across the country. However, both Italy and Vatican City recognize the pact, updating the treaty most recently as 2016, sharing views regarding international issues and foreign relations policy.
Valentine’s Day – February 14th – Italy is known for its passion, with a history of famous lovers, including the legendary Casanova. The country does not celebrate Valentine’s Day as ardently as the United States or Great Britain, but couples do give candy, flowers, and provide ineffable romance. Shop windows in the main cities represent the customary reds and pinks of the holiday in the naturally adoring ambiance cast by the historic city centers and gorgeous landscapes in the north and south of the country. The devotion to the holiday varies depending more on the city and its romantic history than on the location of the city itself.
The “Lovers of Camogli” festival takes place during the week of Valentine’s Day in the town of Camogli, located in the region of Liguria. The sleepy town awakens annually as the center of romance along the coast, bordered by olive and mimosa groves. Hearts decorate the streets and traditional fishing nets adorning the harbor wall. A marketplace on the promenade specializes in confections, cakes, pastries, and jewelry. Shops participate in a window-dressing competition, while poets and artists partake in contests of their own dedicated to the theme of love. Chefs and bartenders also offer classes on Valentine recipes, from cocktails to desserts.
Although Florence and Venice are considered two of the most romantic cities in Italy, lovers often spend their Valentine’s Day in Verona, attending one of the public concerts or visiting the home of Shakespeare’s Juliet Capulet, the heroine of Romeo and Juliet. The small town of Terni in Umbria decorates the streets with lights and inviting hearts. The Basilica of St. Valentine commemorates the town’s patron and the holiday with ancient Roman and Greek roots.
The festivities are spread over six weeks, beginning February 1st and ending in mid-march. Young couples participate in the Festa della Promessa, and the locals indulge in sweet treats during the Cioccolentino, a celebration of decadent chocolate. On the evening of February 14th, the city glows by candlelight for the final touch of romance. Those wanting to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a more religious focus travel to Rome to visit Chiesa di Santa Maria to view a display of the saint’s more than 1,500-year-old remains.
Saint Faustino’s Day – February 15th – The day celebrating St. Faustino is considered the single person’s response to Valentine’s Day. Italians passion and love of a good celebration has broken away from the need to applaud coupling over the independence of begin single. Saint Faustino is the patron saint of singles. What started as a joke in 2001, grew into a full-fledged holiday celebrated in cities around Italy each year, promoting social events for singles and opportunities for new people to meet whether in social or romantic capacities.
Milan, Turin, Catania, and Rome have championed the holiday and inspired many more events across the country for singles on the day after Valentine’s Day. Little is known about St. Faustino, but legend states the priest helped young and unwed women find partners. The name Faustino in Latin can mean “lucky” or “auspicious,” adding another layer of meaning to the reasons for singles celebrating on the commemoration day of this particular saint.
Carnevale d’Ivrea – March 2nd-5th (2019) – In the tradition of Carnival and the resounding festivals celebrating the holiday around Italy, Ivrea offers one of the most famous celebrations outside of Venice. The small town in Piedmont continues the customs began in medieval times. A colorful parade travels down the main avenues of town before the iconic orange-throwing battle begins. Historians are not sure when the orange throwing officially began as a custom, but folklore dictates the story of a young peasant girl who rebuffed the advances of the ruling tyrant in the 12th or 13th century.
The girl decapitated the tyrant, inspiring a revolt resulting in the villagers burning down the castle. The present-day reenactment has a local girl playing the role of the heroine, Violetta. Dozens of people known as aranceri signify both the tyrant and the peasants and throw oranges at each other. The fruit represents stones and other ancient weapons. The townsfolk are divided into nine teams on foot, with a number of locals positioned on carriages. Those with helmets and protective gear represent the legions of oppressive feudal lords over the centuries, including Napoleon’s armies.
The participants on the ground embody the ordinary citizens contributing to the rebellion. The orange battle begins on the Sunday before Fat Tuesday and culminates in the burning of the scarli, which are big poles covered with dry bushes and positioned in the middle of the main square. Visitors eager to watch the festivities but not participate in the battle wear red caps. There is no guarantee those choosing to observe will not be hit by a misfired orange, but joining in the fray will certainly have you marked by a well-guided throw. The battle ends when a victor is declared in front of the town hall. The night then fills with light fro a bonfire lit in Piazza Ottinetti, the town’s main square.
International Women’s Day (La Festa della Donna) – March 8th – The popular holiday grew in meaning over the years with women traditionally enjoying a night out with their friends at dinner, a movie, or relishing a dessert to celebrate the freedoms in their preferred manor commemorating Women’s Rights Movement around the world. Men purchase yellow mimosas for their wives, girlfriends, daughters, and sisters in a tradition begun in 1946 after moving away from the customary violets and lily-of-the-valley the French presented. Yellow mimosas and chocolates are more prevalent in the Italian landscape and therefore less expensive to purchase.
The holiday allows women and girls to contemplate the distance their role in society has come since the first Women’s Rights March, which took place in New York on February 28th, 1909. However, the commemorating takes place on March 8th due to a memorialize the women who took the streets of St. Petersburg in 1917 demanding an end to the Great War. Italy officially recognized International Women’s Day in 1922 but did not celebrate the holiday around the entirety of the country until 1946.
Mimosa is not just the symbol of the holiday in Italy but has become an important ingredient in the cuisine, showcasing the ingenuity of mixologists and chefs alike, utilizing the bright flower in cakes, cocktails, custards, and creams. It is not uncommon to see women out in the bars and nightclubs with their male counterparts at home for the evening. Museums have also joined in the celebration by offering free admission for women with special exhibits highlighting female artists in Italian history, bringing to new light one of the most popular lesser-known female artists Artemisia Gentileschi and the first woman to graduate one of Italy’s university institutions, Elena Lucrezia Corner Piscopia, who matriculated from the University of Padua in the 17th century.
Rome Marathon – April 6th (2019) – The annual competition has brought famous runners from around the world since its establishment in 1982. The dates have moved multiple times over its three decades of existence, including taking place on January 1st, 2000 to bring in the new millennium. On race day much of Rome shuts down due to the route, which passes through the major tourist attractions changing minimally from year to year. Participants pass landmarks such as St. Peter’s Square, Piazza di Spagna, the Trevi Fountain, and the Colosseum.
Runners are expected to complete the race within seven hours before the streets are reopened to regular traffic. In 2010 Rome held a commemoration race in memory of the 50th anniversary of the gold medal winner from Ethiopia Abebe Bikila, who ran the entire marathon barefoot during the 1960 Rome Olympics. The winner of the 2010 race, Siraj Gena from Ethiopia, crossed the finish line barefoot to honor the original champion from his home country.
Saint Joseph’s Day (Festa di San Giuseppe)/ Father’s Day (Festa del Papá) – March 19th – Father’s Day and the festival celebrating St. Joseph, the husband of Mary, go hand in hand in Italy. The historical figure played a prominent role in the early life of Jesus but became a venerated saint in the Middle Ages when Sicilians prayed to the saint to end the legendary drought. Devout Sicilian immigrants carried the tradition North America and Australia during the Great Migration of the 19th century and early 20th centuries.
The novena, nine days of prayer, lead to the veneration of the saint’s day and the decoration of the altar. Flowers, oranges, lemons, rosaries, bread loaves, and fava beans decorate the altars with displays of faith, devotion, and celebration. The food served continues traditions with each dish symbolic of a past invaluable resource, including wild fennel and chickpeas. The holiday is celebrated widely in Southern Italy, with the largest festivals taking place in Sicily.
Pisan New Year – March 25th – On the New Year the calendar begins anew, with the majority of the world adhering to, or acknowledging, the Gregorian calendar. However, numerous regional or stately calendars remain in use and calculate the New Year differently. Pisa is an old republic that celebrates the new year twice, once on January 1st with the greater world, and once on the 25th of March. The city holds fast to its custom first begun in the year 1200 and ending in the year 1749.
The celebration coincided with the Annunciation, taking place nine months before Christmas along the solar calendar. At midday in Pisa, a ray of sharp sunlight penetrates the Duomo in the round nave window. A marble egg on a shelf refracts the light above a column. A historical parade and religious parade fills the morning with locals marching through the streets dressed in period costumes. Drummers and troubadours add traditional music to the fascinating ambiance before noon hits and the crowds venture to the cathedral to view the display of natural light and lavish craftsmanship.
Vinitaly Conference – April 12th-22nd (2020) – Vinitaly is the world’s largest conference dedicated to the wine sector and has been growing each year since its inception in 1967. Over 4,000 exhibitors from around the world present their top products across the four-day event, attracting more than 150,000 professionals of wine and spirits. The convention is referred to by those in the profession as “the most important convention of domestic and international wines.” The conference also offers the largest wine showing in the world, utilized as a barometer of the health of the international wine industry.
Vintner and producers release new wines, announce unique styles, and showcase up-and-coming or emerging Italian wine regions. One popular aspect of the conference is the sensory judgment of wines, when a five-member panel of two Italian judges, two members of the international wine press, and a non-Italian judge sample dry, sweet, still, sparkling, and fortified wines. Exhibitions, demonstrations, workshops, tastings, and lectures provide an interactive experience for participants in addition to the popular landmarks of Verona.
Marriage of the Sea (Festa della Sensa) – Venice has been married to the sea for over a millennium, established in a ceremony first performed in the year 1,000 AD. The celebration commemorated Doge Pietro II Orseolo’s conquest of Dalmatia. Every year the city renews its vows to the sea with an elaborate ceremony that continues to capture the imaginations of Venetians, Italians, and tourists from around the world. The first ceremony saw the sailors cruising into the lagoon and throwing rings into the open water.
The initial ceremony marked a time of great expansion for the republic, turning the medieval city-state into a powerhouse of the Adriatic Sea, along with creating a piece between competing families to help reestablish trade with the Byzantine and Holy Roman empires. The ceremony’s meaning has changed over the millennium, no longer accounting for the marriage between sailors and their dominion over the water, and instead marking the anniversary of the famous mission undertaken by the Doge as a symbol of the city’s great heritage.
The mayor of Venice performs the role of the Doge, leading the water parade of rowing boats made up of the Venetian Rowing Society. The mayor tosses the gold ring into the water representing tradition, heritage, and the city’s indelible connection to the sea. The Church of St. Nicoló hosts the religious ritual preceding the festive market overtaking the piazza. Races also provide entertainment along the Grand Canal and around the Venetian Lagoon. Venice is a popular destination year-round, therefore it is important to book your accommodation in the city known as Serenissima ahead of time. During regional and local celebrations transportation can become crowded, which is another reason to either travel before or after the festivities, or reserve your train, bus, or flight ahead of time.
Good Friday/Easter (Venerdi Santo/Pasqua) – Varies between March and April – Easter is one of the biggest holiday celebrations in Italy. Colorful displays chocolate eggs decorate shop windows, and parades march through the cobblestone lanes of large cities and tranquil villages with statues of Jesus or the Virgin Mary adorning the processions. Church bells peal in the morning drawing neighborhoods to services ranging from the small local chapel to the grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
Every church around the country opens for Easter weekend, and priests travel door-to-door privately blessing homes and shops in time for the Easter festivities. Restaurant menus and bakeries present traditional religious dishes, including the customary ingredient of lamb, abbacchio, for the main course and almond paste creating the pastries and desserts. Children prefer the cake Colomba di Pasqua, which takes the shape of a dove. Hollow chocolate eggs contain small prizes inside.
The religious processions across Italy begin on Good Friday. Parade participants dress in traditional medieval or ancient costumes while carrying olive branches or palm fronds to decorate the churches. The most well-known Good Friday procession takes place in Enna, in Sicily. The religious community draws people from all over the island and from around the world interested in viewing 2,000 friars dressed in ancient costumes parading through the city’s streets.
Trapani, also a city in Sicily, holds several processions during the Holy Week leading to Easter Sunday. Their Good Friday parade, known as Misteri di Trapani, lasts 24 hours and is the longest religious event in Italy. It is also one of the oldest continuously observed religious events, having begun before the Easter of 1612. Images of the Passion and Crucifixion parade through the city streets, starting and finishing in front of the Chiesa del Purgatorio.
A lesser-known celebration of Easter in Italy is Pasquetta, which literally translates to “Little Easter,” but refers to Easter Monday. The day is popular amongst Italians and is celebrated as a national holiday. Groups of friends make picnics in the public plazas, in the lush parks, or in the countryside to play games involving egg races or Easter-centric themes. The town of Panicale celebrates the holiday by rolling giant wheels of cheese around the old city walls. Judges gauge the winner by speed, and whoever used the least strokes to propel their wheel of cheese forward.
Traveling through Italy during Easter Weekend depends on your desire to participate in the festivities. Traditionally, Italians travel outside of their respective cities or towns for the holiday, making transport by bus or train more crowded. The public transport schedules run on ferie, the holiday schedule, which means trains and buses run less often. By running infrequently, you must wait longer between transports and deal with larger crowds. Shops and museums close during the weekend for staff to celebrate with their families.
Restaurants typically serve more seasonal, customary dishes associated with Easter. It is easy to be swept up in the majesty of the processions and the unique ambiance Italy during the holiday, but it is not easy to travel around Italy on the religious weekend. If you choose to travel in or around Italy during Easter Weekend, all accommodations and transportation should be booked well in advance to avoid missing out to other travelers, whether Italian or international.
Birthday of Rome – April 21st – The celebration of Rome’s Birthday takes place in the Eternal City with little fanfare in other parts of Italy. The lavish celebration centers around the birth of the empire and the legends surrounding it. Activities span the weekend with an extravaganza of concerts, historical reenactments, parades, and cultural celebrations at the Circus Maximus. Light bathes the Colosseum in a grand display of fireworks. The myth begins with the small settlement atop the Palatine Hill, which grew to become what Roman’s considered Caput Mundi, the “Capital of the World,” whose dominance lasted over a millennium.
Plays and storytelling across the city retell the tale of the twins Romulus and Remus, the sons of Mars, who were weaned by a she-wolf. Gruppo Storico Romano has brought history to life through battle and historical reenactments for the last 20 years and continues to dress as Roman legions or in the traditional garments of Roman women, for dramatic retellings of daily life and captivating mysteries of the former empire, leading to the conquest of Britain in a mock battle.
Feast of Saint Mark (Rosebud Festival) – April 25th – The majority of Italy overlooks the Feast of St. Mark for the unifying holiday that lands on the same day, Liberation Day. However, Venice, the City on the Lagoon, pays homage to its patron saint each year with the rosebud festival, recalling a little-known tradition when men give their beloveds a red rosebud as a sign of true love. The custom began in the 8th century when the daughter of Doge Orso I Participazio, fell for a man of humble origins.
The man was sent into battle with the Turks and fought valiantly but succumbed to a mortal wound, dying in a rosebush. With his dying breath, he tasked a friend with delivering a rose soaked in his blood to his beloved as a pledge of their everlasting passion. Since that day in the 8th century, Venice celebrates love, passion, and their patron by honoring partners, mothers, and daughters with a red rosebud, following in the tradition of the man who fought the Turks to prove his love of the Doge’s daughter.
Musical and dance performances, along with carnival rides and boat races commemorate the festival spirit. It is a romantic time to visit Venice, with the already charmed air carrying the aroma of roses. The food festival of St. Mark’s Feast follows shortly after, with lovers of cuisine celebrating with face painting, Italian ice, pizza baking, and gastronomic treats. The festivities commemorate the day in which two Venetian merchants stole the remains of St. Mark from his grave in Alexandria to return the saintly body to the island and fulfill the angel’s pronouncement that predicted St. Mark’s body would one day rest in Venice. A mosaic of the event decorates the basilica.
Liberation Day – April 25th – While Venice celebrates St. Mark and the legend of the rosebud on April 25th, the remainder of Italy rejoices in La Festa della Liberazione, Liberation Day, which commemorates the day Allied troops freed Italy from its ties to Nazi Germany in 1945. It is also the day Italy honors its fallen soldiers and resistance members who fought against Mussolini’s troops throughout the Second World War. Towns large and small exult with marching bands and big flags.
Political rallies and music concerts fill the public squares of larger cities and smaller museums and shops close in memoriam. University students gather in the main squares and along cafes singing the partisan anthem Bella Ciao, which left-wing anti-fascist groups appropriated as a rallying cry against Nazi and Italian fascist leaders. The most elaborate celebrations take place in Rome, the nation’s capital. Citizens parade and demonstrate to honor the struggles of World War II culminating in the annual address by the president after visiting the Ardeatine Caves Mausoleum, where Nazis killed 335 Romans in 1944.
It is not uncommon for establishments, such as shops, museums, or even restaurants to close for the day. Public transport is also hard to obtain during the national holiday, with trains, buses, and ferries running less often. Larger museums around the country, such as the Uffizi in Florence, the Vatican Museum in Vatican City, and the Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, remain open. You should always check in advance and, when available, book your tickets in advance as well.
Labor Day (Festa dei Lavoratori) – May 1st – The Day of the Worker is a national holiday in Italy, bringing more parades, festivals, and special events to a country that knows how to celebrate. Many Italians take a vacation from April 25th (Liberation Day) to May 1st (Labor Day). Museums large and small close for the holiday, including the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and the National Archeological Museum in Naples. In Rome attraction such as the Colosseum, Vatican Museums, and the Borghese Gallery are also closed. Labor Day is one of the few national holidays during which Italy shuts down.
Labor unions continue to organize a free concert in the capital, with attendees topping 1 million people annually. Venice in the north and Alberobello in the south remain popular destinations during the long weekend for Italians and tourists to visit. The important festival of Sagra di Sant Efisio begins in Sardinia on the same day. If in a large city like Rome or Florence, it is easy to pass the day walking around the streets, which act like open-air museums. Smaller towns shut down for the day, which makes traveling and sightseeing difficult.
San Efisio Procession – May 1st to 4th – The streets of Cagliari brim with antique life and excitement during the four-day festival, which has provided one of the world’s largest and most continuous religious processions since 1656. The celebration commemorates Efisio; a Roman officer sent to Sardinia to suppress Christianity. While on the island Efisio had an epiphany and became a follower instead. The Roman legions beheaded him after he refused to renounce in the year 303 AD.
During the plague of 1652, Sardinia turned to their patron saint, announcing in their desperation they would carry the statue of Efisio through the streets in a long procession from the church in Cagliari to the chapel in Nora to display their devotion. The plague disappeared, and the citizens of Cagliari have kept their promise ever since. The festival involves more than 5,000 people. Displays present approximately 30 Traccas, peasant carts drawn by oxen and decorated with flowers and Sardinian produce. Followers wear traditional village costumes while singing customary prayers taken from the rich religious heritage of the island. The most dazzling costumes shine orange from the commune of Desulo and austere black on the dresses worn by the women of Tempio.
Men from Quartu wear gold jewelry on their waistcoats and fishermen from Cabras walk barefoot through the streets. Horsemen trail the procession in the back and divide the large crowds lining the streets of the old city. The statue leaves the church at midday traveling inside a 17th-century gold-plated coach. Traditional Sardinian pipes accompany the procession, creating a haunting atmosphere in the otherwise quiet streets. People near the parade reach out their hands to touch the effigy, which rid the island of plague and protected its citizens from the French siege of 1793. On the evening of May 4th, the statue follows a parade lit by torches, guiding the effigy back to its place rightful place in the Church of St. Efisio in Cagliari.
Wedding of the Trees (Lo Sposalizio dell’Albero) – May 8th – Small towns in northern Lazio celebrates nature and the season of fertility during this auspicious festival. The ceremony has ancient roots with pagan rituals recalling the former connection people had with the landscape and the seasons. Locals claim the celebration as the world’s first and most ecological festival, consistently practiced since 1432 in the town of Vetralla. Costumed dancers move to the music played by the town band. Flag throwers perform in the open spaces beneath the shading forest.
Horsemen hold bouquets of yellow scotch broom flowers and gallop around a clearing of forest at the top of Mount Fogliano. Participants dress two giant oak trees in veils and garlands. The mayor wears a sash of the Tricolore and officiates the symbolic wedding between the two oak trees. The mayor reads a notary’s act attesting to the union and witnessed by those resent. The ceremony annually reasserts the town’s possession and protection of the forest, having only canceled the ceremony in nearly six centuries.
Snake Handlers Procession (Processione dei Serpari) – First Thursday in May – The name “Feast of St. Domenic,” does little to share the uniqueness of the events that take place during the festival, which is celebrated in the tiny hamlet of Cocullo, located in the region of Abruzzo. St. Domenic is the protector against snakebites. Participants in the festival decorate a statue of the saint with jewels, banknotes, and live snakes.
Carters haul the statue through the village as snakes coil around both the effigy of St. Dominic and the statue bearers. The procession protects villagers from snakes and snakebites each year once the live snakes are re-released into the wild. Six weeks before the event, snake handlers scour the countryside collecting snakes from the local villages to ensure the bearers’ safety during the procession. Fireworks begin at eight in the morning, followed by mass.
The devout ring the bell with their teeth ensuring good dental health for another year, as St. Dominic is also the patron protector of toothaches. The procession begins at noon. The actions of the snakes on the statue are prophetic. If they wrap around the head, it promises a good harvest. If the snakes slither around the arms, it is a bad omen. A sweet, ring-shaped bread populates the village at the end of the procession as an homage to the snakes, the festival, and the former custom of cooking and eating the snakes.
Race of the Candles (Corso dei Ceri) – May 15th – The town of Gubbio in the region of Umbria embodies the distinctive display of history and religious devotion of Italian communities. Little about the festival has changed since its inception in 1160 when Ubaldo Baldassini passed away. People travel from around Italy and across the world to watch the ancient festivity held between May 3rd and May 15th. The ritual begins with a priest blessing the town before groups of young men split into three teams. The yellow team plays for St. Ubaldo, the blue team plays for St. George, and the black team plays for St. Anthony.
Despite the name of the festival and a common misconception for those unfamiliar with the celebration, the festival has nothing to do with candles but instead is a feat of strength and ingenuity. The three teams race through the streets of the town and up the steep slopes of Mount Ingino to reach the Basilicata of St. Ubaldo, all while carrying the 13-foot tall wooden pillar known as a ceri, which is referred to as the candle from which the festival receives its name. Each pillar weighs over 880 pounds. The race begins at six in the evening when the three teams made up of 10 to 15 men dressed in bright colors correlated to their particular saint, spring through the streets. Spoiler alert: The festival commemorates Saint Ubaldo Day; therefore St. Ubaldo’s team always wins.
Cantine Aperte – Last Weekend in May – Italy is a wine lover’s dream in-and-of-itself, but the celebration of Cantine Aperte can turn even an ardent opponent of wine into an admirer. The movement began in 1993 when vineyards all over Italy first opened their cellars on the last Sunday in May to encourage direct contact with wine enthusiasts. The annual event has become a fixture of the Slow Food Movement in Italy, in which hamlets, towns, and regions celebrate the cuisine produced locally, appealing to a philosophy of discovering the true culture of Italy’s territories through its flavors.
The weekend allows wine lovers from around the world to go beyond tasting and buying wine directly from farms and vineyards and allows visitors to enter the cellars and discover the art of crafting and refining wine. Each year provinces around Italy also offer spectacular events listed on Cantine Aperte’s official website, along with all the participating cellars listed by region. You don’t have to be serious about wine to enjoy the festivities.
Anyone with a bit of curiosity or a desire to sample the different varietals or tastes shaped by the contours of the landscape will enjoy the principles of Italy’s open cantinas. Unlike the wine regions of the United States and Australia, the common winery of Italy does not have a large tasting room with open bottles waiting for visitors to sample the new or classic wines. Most vineyards in Italy open only for reservations and do not hold regular hours, which is one of many reasons Cantine Aperte has become so popular over the years.
Republic Day (Festa della Repubblica) – June 2nd – Republic Day in Italy is similar to the Independence Day in the United States or Australia Day in Australia and Canada Day in Canada. The holiday commemorates the birth of modern Italy as a republic after a nationwide referendum in 1946. The vote instated the republic and exiled the monarchs from the House of Savoy who had helped unify the country in the 1960s. The constitution now forbids a monarch to be reinstated as the head of the Italian government.
The House of Savoy officially renounced their claim to the throne in 2002 as a condition to return to Italy from their exile. Martial bands and military parades overtake cities and towns across Italy, with the main celebration taking place in Rome. An Italian flag drapes over the Colosseum and a parade, presided over by the president, runs along Via dei Fori Imperiali, the main road running alongside the Roman Forum. The president traditionally visits the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I to lay a wreath in commemoration of Italian peace and unity.
The memorial stands beside the grandeur of the Vittorio Emanuele II monument on the edges of the historic city center. Nine planes of the Italian Air Force Acrobatic Patrol fly over the city emitting red, green, and white smoke, creating a Tricolore over the monument of the first king of unified Italy. Shops, museums, and monuments close for the majority of the national holiday, with transportation adhering to an infrequent schedule. Plan all transfers ahead of time and book all accommodations early, as Italians enjoy traveling to celebrate the holiday, as well. Larger museums and monuments, including the Roman Forum, Colosseum, and Vatican Museums, reopen in the afternoon after the festivities have waned.
Quintana Joust (Giostra della Quintana di Foligno) – June 3rd to 16th – Watching a joust take place in Italy is exciting for novices of the medieval sport or amateur historians who have seen performances before. The town of Ascoli Piceno in the region of Le Marche holds one of the finest jousting tournaments in Italy and recreates medieval traditions that would have otherwise been lost to history. Officiants read the customary documents of the elders and participants carry new banners crafted to commemorate the ceremonies each year.
A procession begins on the Feast of San’Anna, juxtaposing celebrations of Sant’Emidio, the town’s patron saint. A competition of flag throwers precedes the jousting tournament, and devout Catholics offer candles to the bishop. 60,000 residents fill the stands and cheer the six participants partaking in the jousting competition. Each participant represents one of the ten different neighborhoods of Ascoli Piceno and dresses in particular colors to match.
People who marched in the parade watch fully costumed in medieval garments. The talent, skill, and precision of the competitors recall noble knights akin to storybooks and legend. One of the most rousing games takes place on the lemniscate-shaped track. A wooden statue of the god Mars stands with his right arm outstretched and holding a ring in his clenched fist. The rider gallops at full speed attempting to tuck his metal spear into the ring. The rider who finishes the fasted with the least amount of penalties wins.
It traveling by train or bus, be sure to research the schedules of public transportation in and out of Ascoli Piceno. The festival draws interested parties from around Italy, along with visitors from around the world, which means accommodations in town can fill quickly and reservations on buses and trains can also book ahead of time. Festivals and celebrations easily enchant participants who are unaware of the transit schedules. You do not want to be eating dinner with the winners of the jousting competition to find you have missed the last transport back to your accommodation outside of the city and all the hotels in town are already booked.
Saracen Joust (Giostra del Saracino) – Every Third Saturday of June and First Sunday of September –Arezzo captures life in the medieval time after the return of soldiers from the Crusades through the devout celebration its jousting history. The small town in Tuscany exults two times a year during the Joust of the Saracen, surpassing the mere representation of its past by rejoicing in the unique properties of its heritage. The festival has antique origins captured in 13th-century documents restating how Aretini, citizens of Arezzo, preferred the jousting tournaments to other forms of entertainment.
The most historic document in possession of the township offers the rules of the original competition, including the timing, which should always take place on a Sunday, and the reward, which was originally a piece of purple satin. Stories of the Saracen reached Arezzo and other parts of Italy after soldiers from the Crusades returned, bringing new customs, traditions, and legends from the greater world. The festival in Arezzo was reestablished in the early 1930s after a long period of inactivity, returning twice a year, during the evening on the Saturday before the last in June, and on the afternoon of the first Sunday in September. The city is divided into quadrants. Each participant is given colors corresponding to their district:
- Porta Crucifera wears red and green
- Porta del Foro wears yellow and crimson
- Porta Sant’Andrea wears white and green
- Porta Santo Spirito wears yellow and blue
Over 250 participants Aretini participate in the precession, dressed in costumes consisting of soldiers, musicians, valets, flag jugglers, knights, jousters, and members of the government council. The procession ventures through town and ends in Piazza Grande, one of Italy’s most characteristic main squares. All participants in the jousting competition must first take the sacred oath in front of the town hall. If visiting the town for the procession and tournament, pay attention to the public transportation schedule. Accommodations in town during the festival book quickly. Make sure to reserve any local hotels or transfers to and from Arezzo ahead of time.
Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist – June 24th – The cities of Florence, Turin, and Genoa celebrate St. John the Baptist on his feast day with much fanfare and unique festivities. Though much of the country remains proportionally quiet, Florence celebrates its patron saint who was beheaded around the year 30 BC. The preacher and religious figure led baptism rituals in the Jordan River, which artworks of the saint depict most often. The image of the saint was also stamped on the original coins of the republic. Fireworks fill the night sky over the Arno River. Florentines enjoy the light display in the warm evening while sharing gelato.
Music and sporting events fill the day, and select piazzas offer public bonfires. The celebration has ancient origins with nobles and lords originally donating large candles to the church on the saint’s day. As time went on the candles became larger and more ornate, in an attempt for the noblemen to show their wealth and prestige. One of the best ways to experience the fireworks is on a boat on the Arno River. The local government also opens San Niccolo Tower, one of the oldest towers in the city that lines the ancient walls around the historic city center.
The Cathedral of San Lorenzo in Genoa keeps relics of St. John, such as a collection of the venerated figure’s ashes. The maritime city provides a jumble of torchlit processions, street art, musicians, and food stands before the crowds gather at midnight in Piazza Matteotti to light the main bonfire. The historic procession begins the following day and travels between the Cathedral of San Lorenzo and the antique port. Participants carry precious gold statues and religious artifacts before the archbishop blesses the sea.
In the night fireworks reflect in the water and light the city. The celebrations in Turin are less flashy but just as popular with the locals. Sporting events, concerts, and costumed processions fill the days leading up to the 24th of June, along with vintage car parades—Turin houses much of the Italian automotive industry, making it the automobile capital of Italy. The ceremonies end on the Po River with an afternoon regatta, canoe race, and torchlit boat procession.
Historic Soccer Match (Calcio Storico) – June 24th – Soccer fans never knew the sport could be as violent as when watching Calcio Storico in Florence, which takes place as part of the festivities of the Feast of Saint John. The tradition dates back to the 16th century during the Renaissance and is best-described as a blend soccer, rugby, and wrestling. Colors signify the team’s neighborhoods from around the historic city center representing:
- Santa Croce in blue
- Santo Spirito in white
- Santa Maria Novella in red
- San Giovanni in green
A historical parade preceded the match and leads to the stadium set up in the center of Piazza Santa Croce. The games were originally reserved for members of high society. Legend states members of royalty and even popes wanted to take part in the games. In the 1930s the local government reinstituted the games after a dormancy of nearly two centuries. The event and sport continue to draw ardent fans and passionate players. The original rules published in 1580 remain the official outline of the sport.
Players use both hands and feet to move the ball up and down the field over the course of 50 minutes. The rules state that sucker-punches and kicks are illegal. However, head-butts, punches, elbows, and chokeholds are all allowed. The four teams have 27 players with 24 players on the field at one time and no substitutions. Getting tickets to the coveted event is a hard task due to the sport’s popularity and scarcity, as the main event takes place only once a year. You can find more information on purchasing tickets to the game from the official box office website.
Festival of Two Worlds (Festa dei Due Mondi) – June 28th to July 14th (2019) – the original intent of the Festival of Two Worlds was to highlight the cultural differences and similarities between American and Italian art, dance, and music. The festival takes place over more than two weeks in the quiet, serene town of Spoleto located in the region of Umbria. The composer Gian Carlo Menotti founded the festival in 1958 to inspire discussion in the arts and sciences.
The celebration helps strengthen the bonds of friendship between Europe and the United States through the act of creation taking place in conjunction with the Spoleto Festival USA held annually in Charleston, South Carolina. In recent years the governing council has taken steps in introducing younger generations to the spirit of education within the festival’s playful setting to learn about the heritage of the event and the way classical music and art inspires contemporary works. The annual event attracts thousands to the sleepy ancient town, which acts a stunning backdrop to the fascinating celebration.
Feast Day of the Saints Peter and Paul – June 29th – The annual public holiday celebrates the patron saints of Rome, the Eternal City, bringing the fast-paced streets to a relaxed stride. Businesses, shops, and public offices close for the day in honor of the saints. St. Peter was one of the 12 apostles and died by crucifixion in the 1st century AD. He is also regarded as the first pope of the Catholic church. St. Paul became an influential leader in the church before being beheaded in the 1st century AD during the reign of emperor Nero.
To commemorate the saints, the pope places a type of woolen cloak known as a pallium over the archbishops appointed over the previous year to symbolize the unity of the church and the hard work and sacrifice of the bishops. Lights decorate St. Peter’s Basilica and unique art displays made out of flowers adorn the cobblestones of St. Peter’s Square. In 2015 over 1,500 artists from around the world produced nearly 32,300 square feet of floral portraits, utilizing 500,000 flowers.
Each year a regatta takes place on the Tiber River. Boats turn into lavish floats with historical décor cruising to the Ponte Sant’Angelo the famous bridge ornamented with gorgeous statues designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The evening ends with fireworks bursting over Castel Sant’Angelo around 10 in the evening. The celebration first began in 1481 and continues to draw followers of the saints and devoted Romans to the festivities each year.
Battle of the Bridge (Gioco del Ponte) – June 30th – If the game tug-of-war had medieval military roots, it would be the Battle of the Bridge in Pisa, located in the region of Tuscany. The origins of the games are unknown, but the reinstitution of the battle came in the 1930s after a century-long hiatus. Participants in the games wear medieval costumes inspired by traditional Spanish military garments. The celebration takes place in two distinct parts:
- Historical Pageant – The procession consists of over 700 participants in a grand military parade. The procession leads to the edges of the Arno River and Ponte di Mezzo bridge on which the battle takes place. Banners connote the participating teams of the four historical quarters of Pisa, represented by their colorful garments.
- The Battle – The battle takes place between the different teams from Tramontana and Mezzogiorno groups, which represent the different neighborhoods of Pisa. The four groups stand on opposite sides of the Ponte di Mezzo with a seven-ton wooden block resembling a carriage positioned between them. The teams push the carriage attempting to shove their opponent to the opposite end of the bridge. The tournament takes place over six challenges. The winning team takes the most challenges, pushing the trolley the length of the bridge at nearly 165 feet.
Legend attributes the games to Pelops, the mythical founder of Pisa who wished to institute a tournament similar in spirit and conciliation to the Olympics. Another myth positions the games as a reenactment of the battle of the bridge fought by the Pisans and Saracens during the 11th-century campaign, celebrating the warrior tradition of the city-state and former republic.
Verona Opera Festival – June 21st to September 7th (2019) – The stellar acoustics of the 2,000-year-old Roman arena in Verona have drawn famous opera singers, musicians, and music enthusiasts from around the world since the beginnings of the unique festival in 1936. The amphitheater was erected in the 1st century AD and adds luster to the surrounding medieval cobblestone lanes, fortresses, and castles of Verona in view of Piazza Bra. The stadium can hold up to 20,000 spectators per evening, along with hosting elaborate stage dressing to enhance any performance. Audience members can sit on the stone steps near the top of the arena, on cushioned benches in the middle of the amphitheater, or on reserved chairs closer to the central stage and arena floor.
Local restaurants offer tables and chairs in the enchanting ambiance of the city during the festival. Markets, quick-service cafes, and salumerie provide delicious options for picnics during the performances. Wine is also allowed during performances, but glass is not, so locals and aficionados bring plastic cups or bottles. Many restaurants in the city offer pre-opera dinners, which start around 6.30pm, while other establishments remain open late into the night for post-opera meals, drinks, or dessert. The festival captures the imaginations of opera-lovers and musical novices alike. The conductors choose pieces fans recognize from pop-culture or minuscule knowledge of musical history.
Infiorata – the Sunday of Corpus Domini – The Infiorata Festivals drape the countryside in flowers during May and June in towns across Italy. The late spring and early summer celebrations bring colorful festivities most notably to the Umbrian town of Spello, the Sicilian city of Noto, and the town of Genzano in Lazio. The word infiorata translates to “decorated with flowers,” which embodies the unique artwork decorating the festivities.
Artisans use flower petals to decorate the earth, often utilizing beans or wood cuttings for embellishment to perfect a piece. The tradition began in the 13th century and evolved to current iteration in the 17th century when the head-florist of the Vatican presented carpets made of flowers to decorate the basilica on the day of Saints Peter and Paul’s Feast. Famous architect and sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, spread the idea around Rome during baroque festivals he organized when revealing new works of art.
Locals near the Castelli Romani continued the custom in association with the celebration of Corpus Domini and the flower-carpets of the Vatican florist, which takes place nine weeks after Easter. The celebration in Sicily takes place in the third week of May. Artists bring a flourish of colors to elaborate and simple designs on the streets leading to the churches and abbeys around the various towns. After months of sketching on the floor in chalk and marking each line with soil or coffee grounds, the marvelous creations blossom, with the artists utilizing flower petals instead of paint. Artists can choose to use entire flowers instead of just the petals. The works employing stem, petals, and pistil provide three-dimensional scenes. The most common flowers artists use are:
- Broom for yellow
- Goat’s rue for blue
- Carnation for red
- Wild fennel for green
The small town in Lazio began its tradition in 1778 and continues to hold the festival every June on the Sunday of Corpus Domini. The blanket of flower mosaics covers more than 21,500 square feet consisting of 15 flower panels. Artists use an estimated 500,000 flowers and seeds to create the overall work. The festival ends when the crowning procession marches down the center of the flower carpet, preceding the spallamento, when local children dash down the staircase of the church of Santa Maria, uprooting the petals and the dramatic images connoting art, culture, and faith.
Flowers blanket the baroque city of Noto in Sicily during the festival of Infiorata. The event gained popularity in the 1980s and has since become the most popular spring-time celebration for artists eager to display their skills with the natural materials. Flower petals, soil, beans, and wood shavings shape the different panels over the span of 48 hours. The principal mosaic decorates Via Nicolaci, the main street of the city running beneath baroque balconies. The town reveals the finished works on Sunday. On Monday, the town’s children run through the temporary works to represent the customs of the seasons through destruction and renewal.
The small Umbrian town of Spello has celebrated the Corpus Domini since the 1930s with nearly 1,000 people working strenuously to craft and shape the floral carpets each year. The long flowing floral mosaics decorate the cobblestone streets of the historic city center in preparation for the Blessed Sacrament. The designs have grown more complex and sophisticated over the years with artists utilizing the flowers and petals found in the wilds of the Umbrian countryside. They also use berries, leaves, and dried petals to add texture and color to the captivating designs.
Il Palio – July 2nd – The famous horse races of Siena take place twice a year, once on July 2nd and again on August 16th. The sleepy hill town in Tuscany erupts with civic excitement amidst the Medieval architecture. The famous races have celebrated heritage and tradition for over 500 years. The medieval city is divided in 17 distinctive neighborhoods.
10 neighborhoods make it to the horserace each embodied in their banner, along with the strength and speed of their horse. The neighborhoods, known locally as contrade, receive their horse through a lottery system. They shower the horses with affection, grooming, and training in connection with the local church. Flags shine with bright colors and the symbols of each neighborhood:
- Aquila – Eagle
- Bruco – Caterpillar
- Chiocciola – Snail
- Civetta – Little Owl
- Drago – Dragon
- Giraffa – Giraffe
- Istrice – Crested Porcupine
- Leocorno – Unicorn
- Lupa – She-wolf
- Nicchio – Seashell
- Oca – Goose
- Onda – Wave
- Pantera – Panther
- Sleva – Forest
- Tartuca – Tortoise
- Torre – Tower
- Valdimontone – Valley of the Ram
Citizens of contrade fly their respective flags all year but become more spirited near the races. The day before the race, jockeys meet with their horses during the customary charge of the carabinieri, a practice run through the main square of Piazza del Campo. The usual tranquil town continues to pulse with anticipation after midnight with locals eating, drinking, singing, and sharing in the energy of the night before the big race. Priests at the contrade spur on their respective horses. Workmen fill Piazza del Campo with dirt to help the horses run.
The day begins at 10.30 in the Palazzo Comunale, where the mayor confirms the name of the jockeys. A blessing ceremony starts the procession before the race at three in the afternoon. Members of each contrade march through the streets dressed in medieval regalia, shining with the colors of their particular neighborhood with over 600 participants in total. The display offers an homage to the city’s illustrious past, crowned by the race. The horses enter the piazza.
Jockeys receive their whips, which are used more to irritate their opponents than to use against the horses. Horses must run three laps around the piazza. The first horse to cross the finish line wins the evening. The jockey does not have to be present when the horse crossed the finish line to win. The champion contrade receives the drappellone, a hand-painted banner topped by a silver plate, with the inscription of the previous winners decorating the silk alongside sacred symbols for the Sienese. An estimated 25,000 people celebrate the event each year.
The race is free, but the piazza fills quickly. Be sure to purchase accommodations inside Siena well in advance. If traveling from around Tuscany, trains, and buses to the city can grow crowded as the race nears. Be sure to make your way to the city early and enjoy the day full of festivities. The race happens fast but takes place in the early evening. If not staying inside Siena, be sure to check the train or bus schedules so as not be stranded in the Tuscan city after the festivities
CioccolaTó – November 8th-17th (2019) – The chocolate fan can find refuge in a celebration devoted to the sweet confection during a nearly 10-day long festival in Turin. The name plays on the word for chocolate in Italian, which is simply cioccolato, blended with the Italian word for Turin, which is Torino. Although the largest chocolate festival in Italy is located in Perugia, Turin has its own fascinating history connected to the delicious treat, due to the evolution of the Ferrero company.
The name of the company is not as well-known outside of Italy as its signature product of Nutella. The creamy and decadent combination of chocolate and hazelnut, a mixture known officially as gianduja, provides a consistent theme for the festival each year. Aside from the traditional flavor associated with Italian chocolate deserts or a flavorful spread for toast, Piedmont, the greater region surrounding Turin, continues to produce chocolate with good quality ingredients.
The first hot chocolate was served in the court of the Savoy in the mid-16th century after the ruling duke received a bag of cacao beans from the King of Spain praising the duke’s record as a general in the Spanish army. The exotic drink became a fixture at grand balls and aristocratic parties before opening the product to the people and its popularity growing through low taxes on sugar and cacao goods. Artisans of Piedmont continue to craft careful concoctions using traditional and brand-new methods with attention to quality and detail highlighted during the CioccolaTó festival each year, along with demonstrating the chocolate producing methods established by the Aztecs centuries ago.Palio del Golfo – First Sunday in August – The Ligurian town of La Spezia stands at the edge of the sea on the first Sunday in August to watch 13 boats challenge one another in a race of rowers on the Gulf of Poets. A parade takes place on the Friday evening before the race, and each participating village decorates floats and wears stunning costumes and masks, similar to the styles of the masks of Carnival. The most creative costumes and choreography wins an award for the year, passing the accolades to a new winner the following year.
The contest pays homage to the maritime culture sustained by centuries under the rule of the Republic of Genoa. The 13 boats represent different borgate, hamlets or villages, around the bay, which include:
- Le Grazie
- San Terenzo
- Venere Azzurra
- CRDD (a sports society indicating the La Spezia Historic City Center)
Local artisans hand-make the boats, accounting for the specific details and complex characteristics of the designs to make the vessels agile and quick. The race lasts little more than 10 minutes, with boats traveling 1.24 miles (2km). Four rowers and one helmsman have traditionally filled the boat during the competition since the event’s first recording in 1925 when villagers used fishing boats.
The women’s race kicks off the competition on Sunday morning, followed by the juniors’ competition before the start of the men’s race in the afternoon. The event characterizes the passion and involvement of the local population in a celebration of its heritage as an integral part of the regional folklore. Paratroopers of the underwater special forces of the Italian Navy, the Comsubin, pay a unique homage to those who have died at sea minutes before the race begins.
After the competition, fireworks decorate the night sky over the Tyrrhenian Sea. The boat races are popular with the locals around the Gulf of Poets but are little known to travelers outside of Italy. Accommodations inside La Spezia fill quickly due to the festivities, but the smaller towns around the Gulf of Poets have gorgeous views and accessibility to the coastal town. Stay on the safe side and book all transportation and accommodations before arriving in Italy.
Assumption Day (Ferragosto) – August 15th – Ancient and Christian traditions combine during the commemoration of the day when Mary, the mother of Jesus, ascended to heaven. Next to Christmas, Easter, and New Years, Ferragosto is the most important holiday in Italy. The original celebration of Feriae Augusti began in the year 18 BC. Roman citizens took time after the harvest to relax for a unique time of the year when the nobility mixed with laboring classes. Romans honored the gods associated with agriculture, the hunt, and the changing of the seasons.
The festival evolved from a month-long event to a two-week celebration to a single day festivity. As Christianity grew more prominent across Europe, people celebrated the day of Mary’s Assumption concurrently with the ancient festival, continuing a number of customs associated with Roman revelries. Italians gather with family and friends during the day, casting an ethereal quiet over cities and towns.
Night vibrates with a distinctive energy with restaurants open for celebratory meals and local governments lighting the sky with fireworks displays. Live dance performances embellish the squares of Rome focused on different varieties of dance each year. The Tuscan town of Montepulciano provides a historical pageant and fascinating historic games. Huge effigies parade through the streets of Capelle sul Tavo in the region of Abruzzo, culminating in the images exploding with fireworks.
The entire country shuts down on Assumption Day, including shops, banks, restaurants, and transportation. Sporadic trains may run between large cities, but any bus, ferry, or train departure will be few and far between. It is best to stay where you are and enjoy the festivities, choosing instead to travel on the following day. Taxis and local buses are also difficult to catch during Ferragost as local workers choose to spend time with their families or enjoy the celebration. However, larger tourist destinations such as museums and monuments in bigger cities remain open.
August 15th is also the beginning of the Italian holiday seasons, when many locals of larger cities, such as Rome, Venice, and Florence, take their summer vacation to coincide with Ferragosta. Many shops, restaurants, and cafes catering to the locals close until early September.
The Christian ritual is rich in custom as 5,000 people wear colorful, traditional costumes from around the island. The procession starts at dawn as people gather in front of the cathedral while singing Sardinian songs and then moves up the hillside before the priest gives mass in front of the statue. Musicians play customary music in the streets of Nuoro and participants of the festival wear fanciful masks. The long day ends with demonstrations and exhibitions performed in the amphitheater in the evening. Folk dancers compete against one another to attend the final night’s competition and delight visitors as they showcase the heritage of the quiet island.
Buses travel to Nouro from the main cities of the Cagliari, Olbia, and Alghero, and trains depart from Cagliari and Sassari. The festival is important for all of Sardinia and not just those in town, so booking accommodations on the island ahead of your arrival and reserving transport in and out of Nouro ahead of time is wise.
Venice International Film Festival – August 29th – September 8th – The prestigious film festival in Venice was founded in 1932 and is one of the oldest film festivals in the world. Top filmmakers compete each year to take home the Golden Lion award. The festival offers discounts to patrons under the age of 26 or over 60, but screenings are restricted to attendees over the age of 18.
The city remains open during the festival, and transportation by vaporetto, train, and bus remain consistent around Venice and the surrounding region of Veneto. Accommodations do become scarce during the festival due to the influx of patrons and attendants filling available rooms, so you should book any accommodations well enough in advance to not have to compete with the scarcity of available rooms or villas. The crowds also congest the trains leading to a shortage of seats or open space, especially if traveling to Milan or onward to Lake Como.
Historic Regatta, (Regata Storica) – September 1st (2019) – The Historical Regatta honors pomp, prestige, and heritage each year in the grand city of Venice. Fishers and locals of the lagoon have practiced the unique sport for more than a millennium, and in modern times the challenging race has become a spectacle thanks to the water pageant held before the competition. The multicolored 16thcentury –style boats fill the Grand Canal as oarsmen ferry the Venetian Doge and the Doge’s wife alongside the ranking Venetian officials in a faithful reconstruction of Republic’s former glory. The tradition dates back to the 13th century when the navy needed to continuously train and retrain their crew in the art of rowing. The most popular event is the Campionissimi su Gondolini when the gondola boats speed down the Grand Canal racing to the finish line located in front of the Ca’ Foscari Palace.
Rificolona Festival – September 7th – Residents of Florence dispute the origins of the Rificolona festival but continue the custom on the eave of the Feast of the Madonna each year. Whether founded in the depths of pagan tradition or formed with the help of the Catholic Church, Florence and a few other towns in Tuscany celebrate the festival with songs and with the brandishing colorful lanterns on sticks. Children dress in their nicest clothing and parade through the streets while the more religiously devoted visit the Basilica della Santissima Annunziata to light votive candles and pray to the revered saint.
Tradition once brought peasants through the city carrying agricultural gifts in homage to Mary while holding paper lanterns to light their way through the dark countryside. The festive lanterns create a beautiful collection of lights in the capital of Tuscany. The modern-day procession takes place in the streets of Florence with locals carrying their paper lanterns and following behind the cardinal. A folk parade with traditional music and songs add to the ambiance created by the soft glow of the lanterns. Children love to participate in the procession and enjoy watching the light from lanterns swaying at the edge of their sticks.
Over the years, the lanterns have become objects of decoration in their own right, inspiring friendly competition to see who can craft the most original or ornate light. Workshops take place during the week before the festival for adults and children excited by the artistic endeavor. The main procession travels nearly seven miles through the city between the Basilica of Impruneta and Piazza Santissima Annunziata. The customary blessing takes place in front of the basilica before the award ceremony for the best handmade rificolona. Lantern-lit boats decorate the Arno River on the following day, giving rides to couples, children, and families.
Human Chess Match – September 11th to 13th (2020) (every two years)– On even-numbered years the medieval town of Marostica, in the region of Veneto, teems with activity during a spectacular life-size chess game. The tradition began in 1454 when two noblemen dueled in a battle of wits to win the hand of the lord of the castle’s daughter. The lord then made a giant chessboard after decreeing people would take the place of the chess pieces. The first reenactment happened in 1923, with the second reenactment taking place in 1954.
The games have taken place every-other-year since then, with people, especially ardent chess fans, arriving from around the world to witness the spectacle. Participants and enthusiastic visitors dress in the 15th-century costume. Townsfolk dress in black or white to represent kings, queens, bishops, and other pieces, including using real horses in medieval apparel to signify the knight. At the end of the original match, the daughter of the local lord placed a candle in the tower to signify to the citizens she was happy with the winner of the match.
Players give instructions to the pieces in Venetian dialect, and up to550 people take part in the game, which takes over two hours to complete. Tickets to the match sell quickly, and accommodations become equally scarce, so you will want to book your hotel room and buy your ticket to the game ahead of time.
Marostica is 30 minutes away from Vicenza and about one hour away from Venice and is easily reached by train or by bus. Try to reach Marostica early if you are not staying in town and pay attention to the train or bus schedules to know when the last transport returns to the city in which you are staying.
Prosciutto Festival – September 8th to 10th – Parma Ham is the popular choice of snack in Italy’s world of fine cuisine and traditional flavors. In September, the festival dedicated to Prosciutto di Parma takes place in the city of Parma in the region of Emilia-Romagna over ten days and features exhibits, demonstrations, and limitless samples for a gourmet experience championed by experts and enthusiasts. Factories of note reveal their recipes to consumers and the secrets to their curing process.
Restaurants, hotels, and bed and breakfasts add to the ambiance with select, seasonal menus that showcase the favored cut of quality, cured ham. Vendors provide a variety of over 1,000 different types of cured ham to highlight the 10 million Parma hams produced each year from the 164 companies across the region. Some of the recipes to produce and cure the meat have changed over the years, but the methods the different companies use has remained unchanged for 2,000 years, utilizing the leg of a prized Italian pig and a pinch of sea salt to begin the curing process.
Parma grows busier than usual during the festival, drawing culinary aficionados from around Emilia-Romagna, Italy, and the world. Crowds overtake the buses and trains in the late morning and early evening with visitors traveling from Bologna, Milan, or beyond to enjoy a weekend at the festival, but accommodations in and around Parma are readily available. Err on the side of caution by booking accommodation and any necessary transportation ahead of time.
Juliet’s Birthday – September 16th (2019) – The story William Shakespeare made famous about the two young lovers of Verona has a deep history shaping the romantic ambiance of the city of Verona in the region of Veneto. Historians and literary aficionados believe the story of Romeo and Juliet represents the life of Giulietta Capuleti, who was born on September 16, 1284. The city recreates medieval life to celebrate their famous daughter and her legendary love.
While Shakespeare’s tale brought the star-crossed love of Romeo and Juliet to the English-speaking world, the story was told numerous times before in Italian. The Historia Novellamente Ritrovata di Due Nobili Amanti, The Newly Found Story of Two Noble Lovers, by Luigi da Porto, as well as an even earlier story known as Mariotto e Ganozza, by Masuccio Salernitano both included the romantic tale. Legendary Italian poet Dante Alighieri mentions the grief shared by two families of Verona during the domestic quarrels of the Guelphs and the Ghibellines.
Juliet has become an ambassador of Verona and a symbol of romance, drawing visitors to pay their respects to the heroine of love by visiting the family home or writing letters to Juliet, where volunteers in the association of Juliet’s Club answer each year.
Juliet’s Club helps organize the festivities each year to take place in Piazza dei Signori and the Cortile del Mercato Vecchio. Artists and artisans showcase their handmade creations focused on the theme of love and romance while musical and theatrical performances capture the imagination and inspiration of affection. Guided tours follow the footsteps of Juliet through the city, including a visit to the heroine’s childhood home and family tomb.
Many tourists travel to Verona for a day to explore the ancient history and view Juliet’s home while the festival draws romantics from around the world. Be sure to book at least a night in the fair city to view the ambiance from a different perspective after the tourists leave.
Il Palio – The third Sunday in September – Although Siena’s Palio is the most famous horse race in Italy, the Palio in the town of Asti, located in the region of Piedmont, holds the title of the oldest bareback horse race in the country, in a tradition dating back to the 13th century. The games and pageantry begin on Thursday before the weekend race as flag-bearers march through the streets with bands and colorful garments to represent their respective neighborhoods.
The race has taken place in the triangular square of Piazza Alfieri since 1988. The race was meant to coincide with the feast day of the town’s patron saint, San Secondo, who was martyred on the 30th of March, 119, however, the first record of the race in Asti dates back to 1275. The race returned after a 30-year absence between the 1930s and 1960s to mark the 1000th anniversary of the Marquisate of Montferrat and the eighth centenary of the Lombard League. 14 villages took part in the initial celebration and drew over 100,000 spectators from around Italy.
must purchase tickets ahead of the games if you want seats in the grandstands surrounding the piazza. Due to the popularity of Asti’s Palio, accommodations in the town fill fast, and tickets to the grandstands sell quickly. Transportation to Asti becomes crowded before the race, so if not staying in Asti, be sure to arrive early if you wish to view the races from the center arena and to avoid the crowds on the train or buses.
Feast Day for Saint Gennaro – September 19th – The city of Naples, located in the region of Campania, takes the feast day of the city’s patron saint very seriously and celebrates with prayer and processions near the Duomo of Naples.
San Gennaro was a bishop and martyr in the 4th century. The devoted follower became a priest at 15 years old and bishop of Naples by the age of 20. Legend states the priest died while visiting imprisoned Christians in Rome. A woman gathered the coagulated blood of the saint and returned it to Naples where it liquefied eight days later. Devout Catholics travel to the cathedral on the feast day to witness the “Miracle of the Blood,” a belief that the saint’s blood liquefies on his feast day each year. Thousands of people visit the Piazza del Duomo on the feast day to view the miracle, and the religious ceremony upholds custom and heritage as the cardinal removes the vials of blood from the chapel. If the blood liquefies, San Genaro has blessed the city. If the blood remains coagulated, is in an omen for Naples and Italy.
Church bells ring in praise of the saint if the blood liquefies and the Cardinal brings the celebratory action into the piazza to allow all who gathered a view of the blessing. The vials remain on display in the altar for eight days before being returned to the chapel. A procession then follows the ceremony through the streets of Naples’ city center to the church of Santa Chiara where vendors set up stalls in the streets to sell food, candy, toys, and trinkets in honor of the day.
Businesses, such as shops and small restaurants, along with public offices like banks and the post office, close during the Feast Day of Saint Gennaro. The holiday does not have an affect on the accommodations in the city but will disrupt transportation. Trains and buses run on a different schedule through the city and around the Bay of Naples. Booking transportation early will avoid any problems, especially if traveling around the holiday.
Feast Day for Saint Petronius – October 4th – Bologna, the capital of Emilia-Romagna, venerates its patron Saint Petronius, a bishop during the decline of the Roman empire in the 5th century, while the rest of Italy commemorates the life and times of St. Francis of Assisi. Shops and banks close, along with schools as the people of Bologna enjoy the restaurants, cafes, and public squares throughout the day in celebration of their patron saint.
The archbishop holds a midmorning service in the basilica as the church stood as a symbol of the city’s liberty during the 14th century and a place in which to give thanks to the blessings bestowed upon Bologna by Saint Petronius. His important legacy includes charitable work for the city’s poorest and attention to urban planning and housing construction during the hard years between the decline of Rome and Bologna’s rise as a proud City-State. The festival is both religious and civic, with the morning mass giving way to a short procession leading between St. Peter’s to St. Petronius’.
Concerts and street theater take place across the city center and fireworks fill the night sky. The larger museums in the city remain open during the celebration and intercity transportation between Bologna and Rome or Bologna and Venice, are not disturbed. It is easy around the Feast Day of Saint Petronius to find a variety of accommodation in Bologna.
Maschera di Ferro – First Weekend in October – The legend of the Man in the Iron Mask has permeated culture in Western Europe, including the life and times of Italy’s Piedmont region and the town of Pinerolo. The French occupied the town sporadically between the 14th and 17th centuries, and the legend tells of a French prisoner during the reign of King Louis XIV. The unique characteristics of the ever-present mask that kept the prisoner’s face from view led to the famous novel written in 1847 by Alexandre Dumas, The Man in the Iron Mask, and the town of Pinerolo celebrates the legend annually with an elaborate display of community theater.
The intriguing story begins on the medieval streets of the town in the Italian Alps near the region’s capital, Turin. Participants dress in medieval costume to parade through town while music and games fill the public piazzas. Soldiers march prisoners through town, preceding the Man in the Iron Mask arriving in Piazza Vittorio Veneto. Thousands of spectators stand in the square to view the mysterious prisoner, and each year a different person plays the prisoner as locals attempt to guess who could be behind the mask.
The town of Pinerolo stands well off the beaten path of Italy’s main destinations, so it is easy to find luxury with comfortable accommodations in Pinerolo, a nearby town, or local villages to participate in the unique display of regional tradition and amazing history.
White Truffle Festival, (Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco d’Alba) – October 5th to November 24th(2019) - The cuisine of Italy is famous for its balanced flavors and rustic properties, along with the elite ingredient of the white truffle, which draws culinary enthusiasts from around the world to the region of Piedmont and the town of Alba. The first festival was held in 1930, and each year, the small mountain town in northern Italy continues to hold one of the best truffle fairs and markets.
Concerts initiate the beginning of the festival and foot stand fill the city with the earthy aromas of fresh truffles picked from the surrounding countryside.
Events such as donkey races and food tastings keep foodies, children, and the rare tourists interested in the fun activities. Local restaurants join in the celebration by providing seasonal dishes that showcase the season and the robust flavor of the white truffle. The end of the proceedings comes in the form of the truffle world auction and a white truffle walk, during which tourists can search the forest for any lingering bundles of the coveted ingredient.
The dates vary from year to year, but the festival always takes place between October and November. Accommodations in Alba are scarce during the event, but nearby options remain available, including the quiet town of Asti or the charming village of Monforte D’Alba. When staying in a small village or the countryside, you should have your own vehicle to travel in and out of the accommodation.
The white truffle is an integral part of Italian cuisine in particular regions with Piedmont and Alba provide one of the most famous festivals in celebration of the delectable ingredient, but it is by no means the only celebration. The following is a list to help guide you to other white truffle markets and festivals across Italy that may better suit your timing and destinations:
- San Miniato Truffle Fair is held on the second, third, and fourth weekends of November
- San Giovanni d’Asso holds their festival on the second and third weekends of November. The truffle museum is open only on the weekends.
- Volterra celebrates the white truffle in late October and early November
- Le Marche
- Acqualagna holds a white truffle festival on weekends beginning the end of October and running through mid-November
- Sant’Angel in Vado enjoy the festival for several weeks in October
- Pietralunga hold a trade fair in truffles in mid-October
- Citta di Castello has a fair dedicated to white truffles and forest products in November
- Bobbio enjoy a mushroom and truffle celebration on the first weekend of October
- Savigno brims to life on the first three Sundays in November with a white truffle festival
- Sasso Marconi has a truffle festival and historical pageant during the first weekend of November
- Calestano makes its own path with a black truffle fair held every Sunday in mid-October to mid-November
- San Pietro Avellana proves its name as the “Home of the White Truffle” with a market on the first weekend of November
The streets close to traffic from private automobiles and bikes, with only pace cars, film, and emergency vehicles allowed on the course during the race. Accommodation around Modena and Maranello become scarce before the race with participants eager to spend the night close to the starting line. Transpiration is not affected throughout Italy, but bus routes may vary in Emilia-Romagna due to roads closing for the event. If you are driving through Italy, be aware of the closed roads in Emilia-Romagna between Maranello and Carpi.
EuroChocolate – October 18th to 27th (2019) – The annual chocolate festival of the city of Perugia, in the region of Umbria, celebrates modern food with historical roots. The delicious event takes place every October and overtakes the whole of Perugia’s historic city center. Each year the governing body offers a chocolate-themed initiative, which in the past have included Eurochocolate World, Choco Island, Pepper, and Spalm Beach.
Seminars and workshops offer detailed insight on subjects like how to properly pair chocolate and wine, or programs meant to train parties interested in working in the culinary industry, marketing, or in retail. Nutritionists offer lectures with specific details about the virtues and downfalls of the confection while artists sculpt over 2,204.62 pounds (1000 kilograms) of chocolate blocks into clean, captivating statues.
The event sees approximately 300,000 visitors a year, along with more than 50 tons (100,000 pounds) of chocolate featured in the stalls, cafes, restaurants, theaters, and workshops across the city. Staff catch the falling shavings on clean sheet pans before offering them to the crowd for an interactive experience with the art. Past demonstrations have included a six-foot-tall (1.82 meters) and 55-foot long (16.76 meters) chocolate block to commemorate the Berlin Wall and an edible hot air balloon made out of Lindt chocolate.
The festival can be overwhelming to newcomers unfamiliar with the grand scale and endless displays of edible and artistic chocolate. The best place to start is in Piazza Italia. The Chocotram connects the city’s main piazzas every hour. The tram also contains chocolates and treats for passengers. The event has enough unique activities and fascinating flavors for ardent chocolate lovers and the casual chocolate eater to enjoy. Accommodation in the city remains accessible, making it easy to explore the chocolate festivities or visit the highlights of Umbria at your leisure without interference from crowds, an abundance of traffic, or a surprising transportation schedule.
Feast Day for Saint Saturnino – October 30th – Sardinia can feel a world apart from the mainland of Italy with its secluded island shores, but during the Feast Day of Saint Saturnino, the traditions of devotion connect the main city of Cagliari with the customs of the predominantly Catholic nation. The patron saint of the city was martyred in the early 4th century by order of governor Barbarus, and legend states that Saturnino was beheaded for refusing to offer sacrifices to Jupiter while the local government persecuted fellow Christians.
The main basilica is dedicated to the saint and continues to draw devoted citizens of the island to its altar to honor past pieties and performances.
Scholars first mentioned the basilica in the year 600 and the grounds were restored in the late 15th century. Locals of Cagliari attend mass and a small procession travels through the city streets.
The festivities showcase a tiny part of life on the Italian island and its customs associated that are far removed from those of the mainland. Public transportation is not affected, and shops, restaurants, and cafes keep their normal hours. Schools close allowing families to enjoy the day together inside the public piazzas or a day traveling around the island.
Halloween – October 31st – The spooky, costume celebration of the Halloween in the United States is a far cry from the distinctive customs of Italy on All Saints Eve. Costume parties have become popular over the last decade and a half with friends throwing intimate gatherings of people dressed in unique outfits inspired by the parties from Hollywood films. Shops have begun to display decorations on their windows and children parade through towns and cities showcasing their cute or terrifying garments before celebrating with private party. Nightclubs, bars, and the occasional restaurant advertise costume events in the major cities with large American populations due to local universities or ex-patriots, such as Florence, Venice, Rome, and Milan.
Italy’s first event dedicated to the Halloween was celebrated at Devil’s Bridge, located less than two miles outside of the Tuscan town of Lucca, in 1993. The event continues to attract Halloween enthusiasts, both Italian and American, with a game called La Notte Nera, horror movies, and a haunted house-like excursion known as the “passage of terror.” The medieval town of Corinaldo, located in the region of Le Marche, has labeled itself the “Italian Capital of Halloween,” by starting a weekend-long festival dedicated to witches. Spooky attractions underscore the historic ambiance of the antique town. Taverns offer live music while bonfires and floating lights fill the cobbled lanes.
The town of Triora, in the Liguria region, is known around Italy for its 16th-century witch trials. The town holds a yearly festival on Halloween with concerts and events continuing past midnight and commemorating its ghostly past. Processions take place throughout the day and on the weekend before the holiday across Italy to commemorate All Saint’s Day. The walks lead to medieval towers, crypts, dungeons, and castles. Italy has its share of creepy and spooky histories year-round, but for a tremendously scary Halloween, you could visit any of the following destinations:
- Appia Antica is located outside of Rome and showcases catacombs and the Tomb of Cecilia Metella
- Ferentillo’s Mummy Museum in Umbria is located beneath the Church of Santo Stefano
- The cathedral of Otranto in the Puglia region on the heel of Italy’s boot, has a chapel decorated with the skulls and bones of 800 martyrs
- Benevento in the southern Italian region of Campania is known as “Witch City,” for its historical connection with local witches in practice and in folklore
- San Michelle in Venice is the cemetery island, which houses two churches and grand tombs filled with flowers during All Soul’s Day
Smaller towns, however, retain their connection to All Saint’s Eve over the celebration of Halloween.
All Saints Day, (Ognissanti/Tutti i Santi) – November 1st – The day of I Morti in Italy is dedicated to the dead and the dear ones who have passed. People begin visiting cemeteries across the country days before the official holiday arrives to bring fresh flowers to loved ones and forgotten tombs alike, turning the landscape into a collection of bright flowers. Chrysanthemums carry a message of joy and prosperity throughout the world while in Italy the flowers hold an association of mourning due to its appearance on the Day of the Dead.
The folk tradition of lighting your windowsill at sunset and laying the table to include a setting for the deceased member of the family remains popular in small towns and with Italians familiar with their traditions. The deceased member is said to leave green beans and confetti for the children after visiting, emphasizing the connection between generations.
The traditional celebration of All Saints Day consists of a mass proceeding the small procession to the cemetery. Often, a priest will lead the mass directly at the cemetery. In the northern regions of Piedmont and Liguria, locals eat a soup of chickpeas, celery, carrots, onions, tomatoes, and pork ribs. In Sicily, bakeries prepare a sweet confection made from Martorana fruit. The dessert is similar to marzipan but has a sweeter flavor made from ground almonds and sugar.
Feast Day for Saint Giusto – November 3rd – The eastern city of Trieste, capital of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, honors their patron, Saint Giusto annually on the third of November. The saint lived in the Tergesteo, which was the Roman name for Trieste. The Roman citizen and Christian refused to make a sacrifice to the Roman gods and was sentenced to execution by drowning. Folklore dictates the saint’s friend dreamt Giusto did wash ashore on the banks of the Riva Grumula.
In medieval times, devout followers of the saint moved the body to the Duomo, and now a bronze statue of the saint sits nearly 30 feet below the water near the cliffs of the Trieste, visible in the clear Adriatic Sea. In 2013, theCircolo Sommozzatori Trieste, a local scuba club, recovered, repaired, and cleaned the statue which was then placed in a large tube and filled with water. It is then put on display in the Cathedral of San Giusto before the effigy returns to its place in the sea. Banks and select shops close on the feast day around Italy and especially in Trieste, and the holiday is also celebrated in Misilmeri, Sicily. Transportation and accommodations are not regularly influenced by the feast day.
Florence Marathon – November 24th (2019) – Late November is the perfect time to run through Florence and the hills of Tuscany during the annual marathon event. The epic run began in 1984 as an international competition with an inaugural 462 runners. 10,211 runners participated in the event in 2010, and the numbers continue to grow, making it the second largest Italian marathon behind only the Rome City Marathon. The race has grown to one of the 20 most prominent marathons in the world.
The contemporary course begins at Lungarno Pecori Giraldi and finishes in Piazza Santa Croce, in front of the eponymous basilica. Participants run past historical monuments dating back to the 13th century including Piazza della Signoria and the Ponte Vecchio. Predominantly representatives of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom accompany a bulk of Italian runners with both men and women participating. The event begins at 8.30 in the morning and offers runners six hours to complete the route. The lack of incline and clean streets provide an easy and fast track for runners to follow.
The streets of the city center are closed to traffic until the late afternoon. Local buses will change routes due to the winding nature of the race, but intercity buses and trains are not affected. The disruption to banks, shops, and restaurants varies upon the route and does not affect every business in the same way. You should not have trouble booking a hotel room or transportation on the day of the race. However, if arriving in Florence during the marathon, it may prove difficult to transfer from the airport or train station to your accommodation by taxi.
Festa della Salute – November 21st – With the popularity of Carnival in Venice, the city has gained a reputation for its celebrations, which would encompass the fascinating Festa della Madonna della Salute. Much like the infamous celebration of Carnival, Festa della Salute combines the sacred and the irreverent. The customs date back to the 1630s during the height of the Venetian Republic as folkloric tradition and religious devotion converge. Floating barges support temporary bridges crossing the Grand Canal and the walkways connect San Moisé and Santa Maria del Giglio to the Basilica of the Madonna della Salute for a majestic procession. Vendors offer trinkets, toys, and sweet treats, including doughnuts, toffee apples, and caramelized fruit.
The archbishop of Venice leads the procession in honor of the construction of the basilica, erected after a pronouncement of faith and desperation during which the city pledged to honor the saint if she protected Venice from the plague. Pilgrims hold candles and light the wicks outside the church as merchants commonly sell cakes and cotton candy alongside the procession.
and restaurants and private kitchens serve traditional castradina, a cabbage and mutton stew.
Venetians participate in the traditions of the holiday no matter their religion or philosophy, enjoying the socialization and familiarity of custom. The event is popular in Venice but remains clear of the overbearing tourist culture. Accommodations are easy to access in November and December in Venice and transportation remains on schedule and banks, shops, restaurants, and cafes remain open to the public.
Feast Day for Saint Nicola – December 6th – The city of Bari in the region of Puglia celebrates the life and times of Saint Nicola like no other city in Italy. Saint Nicola, also known as Saint Nicholas, is the patron saint of Bari. Sailors from the seaside city stole relics of the saint from his resting place in Muslim controlled Myra in the year 1087. In 2017, the city celebrated a 930-year-old anniversary of the Festa di San Nicola as each year, thousands of pilgrims from around the world travel to Bari to give thanks to the saint and worship beside the tomb. Children love the Feast Day of Saint Nicola, as it falls during the Advent season during which children fill their days with the anticipation of Christmas.
In the evening, children leave their shoes overnight in front of fireplaces, windowsills, or outside of their bedrooms waiting for the saint to visit. In the morning, they usually find that Saint Nicola has left special fruits or candies as treats for their good behavior. The tradition grew out of the legend of the saint throwing bags of dowry money down chimneys or through windows to help impoverished families from selling their daughters into slavery. In the spirit of custom and protection, women eager to marry continue to visit the basilica on the patronal feast day to place notes written to the saint and three coins inside a special box.
The main festival dedicated to the St. Nicola in Bari takes place in May when the city forms a grand procession on the water and through the streets in a recreation of the day the sailors returned with the saintly remains. An effigy of the saint travels in the procession leading from the cathedral to the boat before it returns to land. The Feast Day for Saint Nicola does not disrupt shop, bank, or transportation hours and accommodations are easy to find.
Feast Day for Saint Ambrose – December 7th – The city of Milan in the Lombardy region enjoys the rich and storied life of Saint Ambrose during the patronal feast day. Aurelius Ambrosius was born in the 4th century in Gaul, and he became a lawyer and governor of Milan before becoming the city’s bishop in the year 374. The saint also worked in scholarly pursuit before denying the emperor Theodosius I from entering the church after massacring 7,000 people in Thessalonica.
A special religious service is held on the feast day in one of the oldest churches in the city, Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, which was erected in 1099. The Oh Bej! Oh Bej! street market is the traditional Christmas fair established in the Sforza Castle beginning on the Feast Day for Saint Ambrose. The market as located in Piazza Mercanti until the mid-1880s before moving to the Basilica di Sant’Ambrogio, and finally to the classic castle grounds. Seasonal sweets and winter delicacies decorate the stalls alongside Christmas decorations, toys, antiques, and souvenirs.
The fair is often crowded in part because the Milanese have Saint Ambrose day off, followed by Immaculate Conception Day, and the coming weekend. Shops and private businesses, banks, government offices, and educational institutions close for the holiday. Bars, restaurants, and retail shops, along with large museums remain open, although their hours may change slightly. Check timetables and routes for any changes made to public transport during the holiday. Accommodations remain open but the feast day marks the beginning of the winter holiday season for the region of Lombardy, which could lead to crowding in hotels and transportation if not properly booked in advance.
Wild Boar Festival – 10 day festival from the end of November to early December – Wild boar has been a delicacy in the region of Tuscany for centuries, and the medieval town of Suvereto continues to uphold the tradition with an annual 10-day festival. The isolated coastal town maintains a tranquil ambiance throughout the year, erupting with culinary delights and drawing in large crowds respective to the size of the town. Vendors showcase locally produced specialties, such as wine, olive oil, honey, and handmade pasta. Restaurants and cafes follow the theme of the festival by crafting delectable dishes focusing on the main ingredient, boar.
The celebration surpasses the gastronomic customs of the region and also rejoices in the medieval history with exhibitions, reenactments, and fanciful competitions. The secluded province provides an escape from the crowds and popular destinations of Italy while offering an immersive cultural festival in views of pine forests and rocky coastline.
No trains lead directly to Suvereto and the closest station is nearly six miles away in the town of Campiglia Marittima. To reach Suvereto, you must travel by bus or private car. The small town and surrounding hamlets have plenty of charming accommodations, but the popularity of the festival means rooms can book rapidly.
Immaculate Conception (L’Immacolata Concezione) – December 8th – Italians begin the countdown to Christmas on the L’Immocalata, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The national holiday observes the conception of Mary the mother of Jesus with a large festival. The tradition began in the 7th century when churches celebrated the Feast of the Conception of Satin Anne, the mother of Mary. In the 19th century, Pope Pius IX decreed Mary was free of original sin from her conception rather than baptism.
Morning mass celebrates this moment and the special meaning in which the conception gives to humanity and the divine. Celebrations in Rome consist of laying floral wreaths on the nearly 40-tall column of the Immaculate Conception stands in Piazza di Mignanelli, an extension of the Piazza di Spagna. The Pope and the mayor of Rome attend the ceremony and lay wreaths at the base of the column while the Italian Fire Brigade places a large flora garland on the arm of the bronze statue. Parades dedicated the saint fill the streets of the cities large and small.
In the Abruzzo region, churches and local governments provide bonfires for the community while in Francavilla, a town also located in Abruzzo, citizens sing customary songs and perform traditional dances dedicated to the Madonna while enjoying prayers and bonfires. Cooks prepare fried sweets and savory dishes including snails, cabbage, and seasonal vegetables.
The most notable places in which to participate in local customs and lavish traditions are Rome, Trento, and the Vatican. Public buildings, including banks and post offices, are closed during the holiday while retail and private shops offer different hours as they ready for the holiday shopping rush. Train and bus schedules change during the holiday, running less often between towns and cities.
Christmas Day, (Natale) – December 25th – Christmas in Italy is a family holiday with little public fanfare and private celebrations that are enjoyed with close relatives and friends. Most of the traditions and customs take place inside the home as opposed to in the public piazzas and open streets. Lights dangle from evergreen trees in the larger squares, but the main decoration of any town or city focuses on the nativity scenes. Shop windows or small sections in front of historic churches display the nativity in various forms, including life-size representations.
Naples provides a perfect example of a world-famous production of the nativity with figurines and displays, leading to Via San Gregorio Armeno, a street informally known as “Christmas Alley.” Seasonal markets abound in the weeks leading up to the holiday and continue until the Epiphany on January 6th. German markets in the northern regions provide particular flavor and aromas to the cities around the Swiss and Austrian borders.
Southern cities maintain a more Mediterranean character. Babbo Natale represents an Italian Santa Claus but does not bring gifts to the boys and girls of the nation. The season brings special dishes, including the sweet cakes of panettone and pan d’oro. Dinner on Christmas Eve consists of fish instead of meat, while the meal on Christmas Day focuses on meat.
Although winter is low season for travelers to Italy, the holiday season remains popular for tourists from around Europe and also visitors from around Italy. Accommodations can disappear quickly, especially in mountain towns known for their ski resorts. Book any accommodations well in advance and keep in mind that traveling on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day is troublesome. The holiday schedule means less-frequent train and bus services. The different schedules can lead to miscommunications and overcrowded train cars or oversold buses.
Banks, shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars close during Christmas Eve and in the early hours of Christmas Day. Monuments and museums close for the entire day. Churches remain open during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day for worshipers. Depending on the church, the nave can grow extremely crowded with Italians wishing to pay their respects and prayers and partake in the Holy Communion.
Information offices have lists of different churches and ceremonies taking place in different languages if you prefer to attend Christmas mass. Tickets to Midnight Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica are free but often sell out months in advance. However, a crowd of thousands of people gathers in St. Peter’s Square to watch the broadcast live on enormous screens set up for the occasion.
Saint Stephen’s Day, Santo Stefano – December 26th – Italians continue to celebrate the Christmas Season the day after Christmas during Saint Stephen’s Day. Families traditionally come together one last time to commemorate the holiday by dining on holiday leftovers and an abundance of sweets. Many Italians across the country visit the nativity scenes that decorate their respective towns and cities, and markets and festivals continue to fill public piazzas. The holiday commemorates Saint Stephen, who was stoned to death in the 1st century, becoming the first Christian martyr.
Each town in Italy has its own unique way of celebrating the holiday. The saint’s relics were moved to Putignano, a town in Puglia in the province of Bari, and the town continues to celebrate the holiday with poetry recitations in their local dialect in honor of the original mass that took place in the late 14th century. The mountain town of Fara San Martino in the region of Abruzzo gathers locals in the main piazza for a live reenactment of the nativity. The province of Padua in the Veneto region has more than 300 participants reenact a single story from the Bible.
Thousands of people travel to the city of Ragusa in Sicily to attend the annual presepe vivente, where approximately 40 different nativity scenes are held in the eight-mile-long Parco Forza Gorge. Artisan crafters provide demonstrations of their trade with rope making, woodcutting, making soap, or crafting olive oil among them.
Government offices, post offices, banks, and educational institutions remain closed during the holiday. Transportation remains on the specific holiday schedule similar to that of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so booking any accommodation or travel should be done ahead of time to assure a space.