Italian holidays

Embrace Tradition: Key Italian Holidays & Celebrations

By

|

In Italy, holidays aren’t just days off work – they are opportunities to embrace cherished traditions, faith, and family. While Americans may be familiar with major Catholic traditions like Christmas and Easter, Italy’s holiday culture cascades far beyond these. 

Each season delivers signature celebrations, from indulgent Carnival feasts days before Lent to sunny Ferragosto escapes during the month of August. These national holidays intertwine with dozens of regional festivities honoring patron saints and proud local histories. 

Italian holidays spotlight elaborate meals, lively processions, and family gatherings. They connect the present with the mysteries and miracles of the past.

So join me as we explore these profound cultural touchstones. Immerse yourself in these celebrations, and you will not only gain a deeper appreciation for Italy’s roots but also find yourself swept up in the passion and meaning they invoke.

This journey will highlight:




italian holidays and celebrations

How Many Holidays Does Italy Celebrate?

Italy celebrates 12 national public holidays each year. These civic and religious holidays commemorate events and figures significant to Italian culture and history. In addition, Italy celebrates dozens of other non-public holidays, or “festività,” that highlight the country’s unique local traditions and patron saints. From the sands of Sicily to the slopes of the Alps, each region has its distinctive celebrations that infuse Italian life with joy and meaning throughout the year.



Public Holidays in Italy

Here is a list of the 12 public holidays in Italy with their names and dates. These are somewhat equivalent to bank holidays in the US.



Non-Public Holidays and Festivals in Italy  

Us Italians take every opportunity we can to celebrate, so of course we also have lots of non public holidays that are still well celebrated and awaited each year. Here’s a list of the most famous and loved ones.

Rogo del Vecchione (Burning of the Old Man) – January 17

Carnevale (Carnival of Venice, Venetian Carnival) – February/March (Date varies)

Martedì Grasso (Shrove Tuesday) – February/March (Date varies) 

Battaglia delle Arance (Battle of the Oranges) – February

Unification of Italy in 1861 – March 17

Scoppio del Carro (Explosion of the Cart) – Easter Sunday

Natale di Roma (Rome’s Birthday) – April 21 

Pizza Village, Naples (Pizza Fest) – April/May

San Domenico Abate Festival – First Sunday in May

Calendimaggio (Spring Festival) – May 1-2  

Festa dei Ceri (Candle Festival) – May 15

Infiorata Flower Festivals – May/June (Date varies) 

Chianti Classico Wine Festival – May

Sposalizio del Mare (Marriage of the Sea) – Ascension Day

Palio di Siena (Horse Race) – July 2 and August 16

Festa del Redentore (Feast of the Redeemer) – Third Sunday in July  

Regata Storica di Venezia (Historic Regatta of Venice) – September 1

Rificolona (Lantern Festival) – September 7

Feste delle Grazie (Harvest Festival) – September

Fiera Del Tartufo Bianco (White Truffle Festival) – October-November

Festa di San Francesco (Francis of Assisi Day) – October

Unification Day (commemorates the victory in World War I) – 4 November

Vigilia di Natale (Christmas’ Eve) – 24th December

Vigilia di Capodanno (New Year’s Eve) – 31st December



Venice carnival costume

Exploring Italian Holidays: Meaning & Customs

Italy’s 12 public holidays span the calendar, commemorating events of national and religious significance. In this section, we will explore these important Italian celebrations by dividing them into four seasons. For each public holiday, we’ll cover details about its history, festivities, traditional foods, unique regional customs, and travel recommendations, to showcase how Italians honor these special days across the country in their distinctive ways. From Epiphany feasting in winter to All Saints’ reflections in fall, the ebb and flow of public holidays chart a course through Italian culture and tradition over the year.

WINTER

Natale (Christmas season) brings sparkling lights, Christmas trees,  nativity scenes, and festive Italian treats like panettone, pandoro, and cappelletti al brodo. Families gather on Christmas Eve for the feast of the seven fishes before indulging in meals of capon for Christmas Day. Gift-bearing Babbo Natale comes at night while a kind witch La Befana arrives later for Epiphany, filling stockings with sweets or coal. Many head to Rome to see the Pope’s midnight mass and the lavish decorations of St. Peter’s Square.

Christmas in Rome

Santo Stefano (St. Stephen’s Day) on December 26th offers Italians a day to recover from indulgent Christmas feasts. Friends and family often gather for lunches of leftover meats, pasta, and sweets. And there’s always something nice playing on the TV in the background, while everyone has fun playing various board games and cards.

The last day of the year, the 31st, is not officially a national holiday in Italy but treated as so. Don’t worry though, you’ll still be able to find most shops open until late afternoon. As the old year ends, Italians celebrate “Capodanno” (New Year’s Day) with lenticchie and zampone, lentils, and a stuffed pig’s trotter, which symbolize prosperity for the coming year. Cities across Italy erupt in music, parades, and fireworks at midnight to ring in the next chapter. 

figurine looking like la Befana

La Befana delivers candy and gifts on Epiphany, or Epifania, to children who left their stockings out the night before. Italians celebrate the arrival of the three magi (“Re Magi”) with parades and reenactments across the country. This day marks the end of the Christmas festivities. Read more about the Befana here.


SPRING

Easter (Pasqua in Italian) celebrations span an entire week in Italy, beginning with Palm Sunday, continuing through Good Friday, and culminating in the feast of Pasquetta on Easter Monday. Good Friday sees a solemn Via Crucis candle-lit procession led by the Pope in Rome while Easter Sunday means the end of Lenten fasting with sweet colomba cakes and elaborate family meals. Unique regional Easter foods include la Torta Pasqualina in Genoa, an egg and spinach pie, and Capretto con Patate (goat with potatoes). 

Pasquetta (Little Easter) is celebrated across Italy as a national holiday, with family picnics and outdoor festivities. Leftovers fill picnic baskets to celebrate the end of Lent.  

On April 25th, Italians commemorate Festa della Liberazione, honoring Italy’s liberation day from Nazi occupation during WWII. The day is met with parades, political speeches, and historical remembrances. Liberation day is a national holiday in Italy. 

Primo Maggio (May Day) brings spring flowers and rallies celebrating workers’ rights across Italy on this national labor holiday. Concerts, marches, and festivals fill the streets.

Italy celebrates its 1946 birth as a republic on Festa della Repubblica (Italy Republic Day) on June 2nd. Military parades, flag displays, and historic reenactments celebrate national pride on this patriotic holiday.


Atrani beach on the Amalfi Coast in Italy

SUMMER 

Ferragosto, on August 15th, celebrates the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. Italians mark the holiday with trips to the beach, open-air picnics, and summer fun before many cities empty out for the August holiday exodus. 

Did you know that this celebration didn’t start as a religious one? It was Emperor Augustus who first introduced this day on the Roman calendar as a day of rest after the end of the summer farming work.


FALL

Ognissanti (All Saints’ Day) on November 1st, which is the actual public holiday, and All Souls’ Day (Tutti i Defunti) on November 2nd are solemn occasions to honor deceased loved ones. On the latter, Italians visit cemeteries to tidy gravesites and leave flowers. This is also a very sweet time as year after year it brings back the traditional Rame di Napoli desserts, which are a chocolate delicacy tied to this holiday.

December 8th, L’Immacolata Concezione (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) is a national holiday commemorating the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Cities like Rome and Florence celebrate with markets and light displays.



Other Special Celebrations Unique To Italy

Beyond its familiar public holidays, Italy is home to scores of distinctive festivals and celebrations that showcase the country’s diverse regional traditions. Each town and city boasts its unique feasts honoring patron saints, seasonal events, and proud local history. From the medieval pageantry of Siena’s Palio horse race to the resplendent masked balls of Venice Carnevale, these singular celebrations infuse Italian life with an abundance of local flair and cultural pride. 

This section explores some of the special festivities found only in Italy, from the flower-filled Infiorata of Genzano to the Chianti wine fair, that embody the spirit, faith, and heritage of communities across the country.

Carnival

The exuberant carnival celebrations held in the days leading up to Lent capture the joyful spirit of Italian traditions. Festivities kick off a few weeks after the Epiphany and crescendo toward Martedì Grasso (Fat Tuesday), with parades, parties, feasts, and fireworks. Each region puts its flair into the pre-Lenten revelry. Costumed characters like the mischievous Pulcinella and crafty Arlecchino join the festivities. Indulgent food abounds with regional treats like castagnole fried pastries, chiacchiere ribbon cookies, and bugie filled doughnuts. 

Venice, Viareggio, and Ivrea host some of Italy’s most renowned Carnevale celebrations, beckoning visitors to don masks and costumes to join the playful spirit before the period of Lenten fasting begins on Ash Wednesday. Carnival provides a glimpse into Italy’s age-old customs of indulgence that usher in the Easter season.

Carnevale di Venezia (Carnival of Venice)

The decadent Carnevale di Venezia features elaborate masks and costumes, with balls and street celebrations culminating on Martedì Grasso (Shrove Tuesday). The final night ends with a public feast and fireworks over St. Mark’s Square.

Carnevale di Viareggio

Viareggio’s month-long Carnevale is famed for its giant paper-mâché floats carrying political and cultural satire through the streets. Nighttime parades add to the excitement.

Carnevale di Ivrea

This ancient carnival reenacts Ivrea’s 9th-century rebellion against a tyrant lord with the Battle of the Oranges, where orange throwers on foot and in carts pelt each other in the streets.

Martedì Grasso (Fat Tuesday)

The final day of Carnevale features feasting, parades, and fireworks before the Lent fasting season begins.

Local Festivals

Beyond Italy’s nationwide celebrations, each town and city hosts its unique festivals that highlight local culture, history, and talent. Events like the Palio horse race and Scoppio del Carro parade have endured for centuries. Ancient rituals like the Marriage to the Sea ceremony in Venice and the fiery Rogo del Vecchione in Ivrea offer glimpses into the past. 

No matter the time of year, there is always revelry to be found in village squares and winding streets when these community festivals ignite. From sword-wielding knights to golden masks to rowing regattas, the diversity of local feasts captures the creative spirit and pride that each corner of Italy harbors for its beloved traditions. These long-standing festivals teach as much about Italian heritage as they entertain with their joyful abandon.

Rogo del Vecchione 

This festival takes place in Ivrea on January 17th and involves the burning of an effigy called the “Old Man” to symbolize leaving the past behind.

Palio di Siena

Siena’s famous Palio horse race has taken place every summer since the 1600s around the city’s central Piazza del Campo. Bareback jockeys represent the city’s rival districts in this fast and dangerous race to win the coveted palio banner.

Scoppio del Carro (Florence)

On Easter Sunday, Florence hosts the theatrical Scoppio del Carro parade, featuring a cart laden with fireworks that ends with an explosive display in front of the cathedral. This is also referred to as Pasqua Fiorentina.

Italian Christmas time

Natale di Roma 

Rome celebrates its birthday on April 21st with fireworks over the Tiber River. 

Sposalizio del Mare (Venice) 

The city’s leader tosses a ring into the sea in this 1000-year-old ceremony.

Infiorata Flower Festivals

During spring, Italian towns like Genzano and Spello celebrate elaborate flower festivals where streets are carpeted with artful flower petals to form immense tapestries.

Calendimaggio (Assisi and Spoleto) 

This festival celebrates Spring with parades, medieval costumes, and music.

Festa dei Ceri (Gubbio) 

Huge wooden “candlesticks” are carried through Gubbio during this lively procession on May 15th.

Vogalonga (Venice Regatta)

On the Sunday after Ascension Day, Venetians don traditional rowing costumes for the annual 32km Vogalonga regatta through the canals and islands of the lagoon.

Rificolona (Lantern Festival in Florence)

Children carry lanterns called rificolona in this September 7th parade.

Venice gondolas regata

Regata Storica di Venezia

Venice’s Historic Regatta on September 1st features races with traditional boats and in period costumes. 

Feste delle Grazie

The autumn harvest is celebrated across Italy with parades, music, and food.

Food & Wine

Italy’s iconic cuisine is celebrated through colorful regional food and wine festivals across the country. From the prized white Alba truffle to Naples’ beloved pizza, each event pays homage to a signature local specialty that captures the essence of Italian gastronomy. 

These festivities showcase the regional pride that communities have for their traditional dishes and drinks. The celebrations feature indulgent eating and drinking with a side of music, parades, contests, and history.

Pizza Village (Naples)

Naples’ big Pizza Village festival every April/May allows pizza makers to showcase their creative delights. Events include contests, demonstrations, and taste-testing under the stars.

Chianti grapes

Chianti Classico Wine Festival 

Held every May in Tuscany, this festival offers tastings of Chianti Classico wines, culinary events, concerts, and more among the picturesque vineyards and olive groves.

Fiera del Tartufo Bianco (Alba White Truffle Festival)

Alba’s autumn fair celebrates the prized white truffle from the Piedmont region with auctions, hunting excursions, and indulgent cuisine.

Italian religious celebrations

Religious Celebrations 

Beyond the major Catholic holidays like Christmas and Easter, Italy hosts many festivals that venerate patron saints and sacred events meaningful to local faith traditions. From the Feast of the Redeemer in Venice to the Festival of St. Francis in Assisi – Italy’s national patron saint, these religious celebrations infuse communities with spiritual richness and connection to cherished figures. 

Events often include ceremonial processions, reenactments of miracles, and tributes blending reverence with revelry. The feasts provide insight into how Italy’s deep Catholic roots remain intertwined with regional identity and local passion for beloved saints.

San Domenico Abate Festival

Cocullo, a town in the province of L’Aquila in Abruzzo, honors its patron in May with a procession of a saint statue adorned with snakes.

Saints Peter and Paul

On June 29th, Italy celebrates the feast day of Saint Peter and Saint Paul with religious processions and special liturgical services. 

Festa del Redentore (Feast of the Redeemer, Venice)

On the third Sunday in July, Venice honors the end of the 1576 plague with boat parades, street food, and fireworks over the lagoon at the Church of the Redeemer.

Festa di San Francesco (Assisi)

Assisi honors its native son St. Francis each October with religious processions, a blessing of animals, and a reenactment of receiving the stigmata wounds of Christ.



How Italians Celebrate These Borrowed Holidays 

Unlike many other cultures, Italy has been slow to embrace foreign holidays, remaining fiercely proud of its festivities honoring faith, history, and community. Only global observances with universal themes like honoring mothers, fathers, and romance tend to take hold. Even then, Italians mark these days in their style, often with less commercialism and more focus on family bonds. 

This section looks at how a few borrowed feasts like Halloween and Women’s Day integrate into Italian culture while the vast majority of cherished celebrations remain authentically Italian.

While Halloween is a relatively new phenomenon in Italy, children now don orange and black while trick-or-treating for caramelle. Adults may enjoy costume parties on this All Hallows’ Eve.

St. Patrick’s Day sees cities like Rome host Irish-themed gatherings to celebrate San Patrizio, with music, green beer, and Irish stew on the menu.

mimosa flowers for festa della donna in Italy, aka woman's day

International Women’s Day on March 8th honors Italy’s women with rallies, marches, and calls for gender equality on La Festa della Donna.  

Mother’s Day or La Festa della Mamma is celebrated with gifts of flowers and cakes, and Father’s Day, or La Festa del Papà is met with family meals. 

The American sales bonanza of Black Friday has also reached Italy in recent years, with retailers promoting sconti to kick off Christmas holiday shopping.



Final Thoughts

Italy’s calendar overflows with holidays honoring faith, history, culture, and community. This blend of national celebrations and regional traditions infuses the year with joy, identity, and meaning. From Christmas panettone to Carnival masks, Italian holidays offer a window into what it means to be Italian. These beloved festivities connect families across generations while welcoming visitors to embrace Italian life.

Whether you are traveling to Italy or are just curious about Italian National Holidays, you are now an expert on holidays in Italy – from the popular Italian celebrations to the lesser-know ones.

Should you wish to continue learning more about Italian customs and holidays, I suggest these two articles: Italy Traditions and Italian Christmas Traditions.



Frequently Asked Questions About Italian Holidays

What are the important holidays in Italy?

Major Italian holidays include New Year’s Day, Epiphany, Easter, Easter Monday, Liberation Day, Labor Day, Republic Day, Ferragosto, All Saints’ Day, Immaculate Conception Day, Christmas, and St. Stephen’s Day. 

What is the biggest holiday in Italy?

Christmas is generally considered the biggest holiday when Italians gather with family for elaborate meals, midnight mass, and exchanging gifts. It also happens to be the longest one starting on Christmas Eve and ending on St. Stephen’s Day.

Is October 31 a holiday in Italy? 

October 31st, Halloween, is not an official holiday in Italy but has become popular in recent decades for children to trick-or-treat. 

How many holidays does Italy celebrate?

Italy celebrates 12 national public holidays. There are dozens more local festivals and saint days celebrated across the country. 

What is Italy’s favorite holiday?

Many Italians cherish Christmas as their favorite holiday for its emphasis on family, food, and faith traditions. Easter is another beloved holiday in Italy.

What are three major holidays in Italy?

Three major Italian holidays are Christmas, Easter, and Ferragosto in August which honors the Assumption of Mary. 

What days are celebrated in Italy?

Italy celebrates national holidays like Christmas and Epiphany along with local days honoring patron saints. Seasonal holidays like Carnival and harvest festivals are also celebrated.

Alessia
Alessia Spampinato