Each year, Italians gather together to celebrate the nation’s key public holidays; and while each festival is unique and has its own special traditions, every public holiday is an opportunity to get closer to your friends and neighbors. It is important for tourists and expats to be aware of these holidays so that they can plan their activities accordingly.
There are 12 officially recognized public holidays in Italy, although each province also has their own special days and local celebrations. Many of the public holidays are religious in nature, primarily Catholic, and involve the reverence of Saints, Biblical events and customs; however, other public holidays are more secular in nature.
Public holidays play an important role in the life of society, giving people the opportunity to have some time off from work to spend with their friends and family. People can also pursue their own interests and hobbies and experience the cultural heritage of their own traditions. From an economic perspective, public holidays are a great boost to the tourist industry, local businesses and retail in general.
On public holidays in Italy, most governmental institutions are closed, including post offices, municipal buildings and schools. Private businesses have the choice whether to close or not, and although the majority of retail does tend to reduce their hours during public holidays restaurants and other hospitality facilities often stay open to benefit from the up tick in trade.
Tourist attractions and significant monuments sometimes stay open while others close! Major monuments such as the Colosseum are usually open on public holidays with the exception of Christmas and New Year’s Day when the monuments and tourist attractions are almost universally closed.
As a tourist, or an Expat, in Italy you can truly experience the magical customs, traditions and holidays that the locals hold so dear; so if you’re wondering about which public holidays you just can’t afford to miss then the compilation of the year’s highlights below will tell you everything you need to know!
January 1st – New Year’s Day.
This national holiday celebrates the start of the new year which follows on the heels of the festivities of the night before, 31st December, or New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day almost every single shop, restaurant and cafe is closed as well as all the tourist attractions and monuments. New Year’s Day is a time for resting, making plans for the future and spending some quiet time with your friends and family. So why not take a walk, have a picnic in the park or just kick back and have a Netflix binge?
January 6th – The Epiphany.
Known as ‘La Epifania’ or ‘La Befana’, The Epiphany is a Catholic holy day which is still officially recognized as a national public holiday in Italy. The Epiphany is the last day of Christmas, when the decorations come down, and is celebrated as a holiday mainly for children. During The Epiphany you can see performers in fancy dress putting on shows at regional festivals and parades.
March 22nd – 25th April – Easter Sunday.
In Italy and Western Christianity, Easter Sunday happens on a specific Sunday during the month of Easter; although the precise date changes each year. Easter celebrations are a major event in Italy and usually begin with a ceremony in the Colosseum on the Good Friday before Easter Sunday, referred to as the ‘Via Crucis’.
The official national public holiday is not until Easter Sunday during which time shops and businesses are closed and most people attend services in their local church.
Monday After Easter Sunday – Easter Monday.
Also known as ‘Pasquetta’, or ‘Little Easter ‘, Easter Monday happens right after Easter Sunday and is also a national public holiday in Italy. Many schools in Italy are closed for the entire week leading up to Easter Monday as the holiday is recognized as a time for family and friends to get together. The holiday traditionally celebrates the beginning of Spring and the new year’s bounty; and for this reason it’s customary to share a long, slow meal with your loved ones.
April 25th – Liberation Day.
Liberation Day, or the ‘Festa della Liberazione’, is an annual public holiday which celebrates the success of the Italian Resistance movement, the overthrow of the Dictator Mussolini and the return to a Republic. During World War II, many brave Italians lost their lives in combat, fighting the Nazis at home and abroad; however the tone of the day is still upbeat as this holiday celebrates their success while commemorating their sacrifices. Throughout the nation you will see many rallies, marches and other community events that celebrate the country’s liberation from fascism.
May 1st – Primo Maggio.
Primo Maggio, or ‘Labor Day’ is a public holiday in Italy that is also celebrated all over the world on the same day. This public holiday officially recognizes the start of the summer but it also gives people a moment to think about the sacrifices that the workers in factories and fields have made over the years to feed their families and improve the economy.
In Italy, many people plan picnics and take family day trips to the countryside while others attend large public concerts such as the Piazza San Giovanni, in the nation’s capital, Rome.
June 2nd – Festa della Repubblica.
Also known as ‘Republic Day’, the Festa della Repubblica is the official National Day of Italy. This public holiday celebrates the day in 1946 when Italians voted for universal suffrage in a referendum to change their country into a republic. This occurred shortly after the turbulence of the World War and is marked by a ceremony in Rome where a laurel wreath is laid at the tomb of the Italian Unknown Soldier. This is a significant holiday in the Italian calendar although many businesses, such as shops and restaurants, do stay open while all government buildings do shut for the holiday.
August 15th – Ferragosto.
This is the main summer national public holiday and although it’s officially just for a single day many businesses across the country actually close their doors for several weeks so their employees can enjoy their vacations!
The Ferragosto also celebrates the Ascension of the Virgin Mary into heaven although historians have discovered that the day was also celebrated in Ancient Rome to mark the middle of the summer.
November 1st – All Saints Day.
All Saints Day, or ‘Ognissanti’, has its roots as a religious celebration and was originally designated as a public holiday by Pope Gregory II in the 7th Century BC. On All Saints Day most people attend their churches to celebrate the Saints and Martyrs of the Catholic faith. As well as celebrating their religious past, many Italians also use the holiday to travel back home to visit their families for All Souls Day, on the 2nd November. All Souls Day is a time to remember the lives of loved ones who have already passed away, making this a poignant public holiday when people across the country pay homage to the dead.
December 8th – The Feast Of The Immaculate Conception.
This public holiday is a religious event which celebrates the life of the Virgin Mary, who lived a life free of sin. Also known as ‘L’Immacolata’, this religious public holiday is a festival that marks the beginning of the Christmas period. This festival is linked to the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, nine months early, when she is said to have immaculately conceived the Son of God, Jesus Christ. It’s on this day that people, in both public and private settings, put up their Christmas decorations, with many towns and cities hosting street fairs and parades. Most places in Italy also put up lights and other decorations in their streets and town squares.
December 25th – Christmas Day.
This family orientated public holiday is one of the nation’s best loved events. Throughout the country almost every single business and government building closes; with the exception of some restaurants which open only for lunch. If you do want to eat out for lunch you will need to book your table well in advance so as to avoid disappointment – certainly don’t just turn up on the day because you’ll likely find the restaurant is already full!
Friends and families traditionally give one another gifts, eat large meals together and fill stockings for children. There are also public parades in the weeks surrounding Christmas, during what the Italians call ‘a month of feasts’; often wishing each other a ‘Buone Feste’, or ‘happy holidays’.
December 26th – St. Stephen’s Day.
This official national public holiday on the day after Christmas is a more low-key celebration when families often visit relatives, take walks in the parks and rest after the big feasts of Christmas Day. The vast majority of businesses stay closed on this day, with the exception of a few restaurants.
National Holidays In Italy.
Each province and region in Italy has its own local festivals, holidays and Saint days but the primary national holidays, as detailed above, are universally celebrated and help to hold the diverse nation together as one unified country!
While you’re staying in Italy, taking part in the public holidays is a fun way to experience the real culture of the nation. Wherever you are in the country though, you should always contact the local tourist office to find out about the more unusual local festivities in your region.