Palio di Siena

Traditions of Italy are sets of traditions, beliefs, values, and customs that belongs within the culture of Italian people. These traditions have influenced life in Italy for centuries, and are still practiced in modern times. Italian traditions are directly connected to Italy's ancestors, which says even more about Italian history.



Main article: Christmas in Italy

Living nativity scene in Milazzo
Christmas market in Merano
Zampognari in Molise during the Christmas period

Christmas in Italy (Italian: Natale) begins on 8 December, with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the day on which traditionally the Christmas tree is mounted and ends on 6 January, of the following year with the Epiphany (Italian: Epifania),[1] and in some areas female puppets are burned on a pyre (called falò), to symbolize, along with the end of the Christmas period, the death of the old year and the beginning of a new one. 26 December (Saint Stephen's Day, in Italian Giorno di Santo Stefano), is also a public holiday in Italy. The Italian term Natale derives from the Latin natalis, which literally means 'birth',[2] and the greetings in Italian are buon Natale (Merry Christmas) and felice Natale (Happy Christmas).[3]

The tradition of the nativity scene comes from Italy. The first seasonal nativity scene, which seems to have been a dramatic rather than sculptural rendition, is attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. Francis' 1223 living nativity scene in Greccio is commemorated on the calendars of the Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican liturgical calendars,[4][5][6][7] and its creation[4] is described by Saint Bonaventure in his Life of Saint Francis of Assisi c. 1260.[8] Nativity scenes were popularised by Saint Francis of Assisi from 1223, quickly spreading across Europe.[9] In Italy, regional crib traditions then spread, such as that of the Bolognese crib, the Genoese crib and the Neapolitan crib.

In southern Italy, living nativity scenes (presepe vivente) are extremely popular. They may be elaborate affairs, featuring not only the classic nativity scene but also a mock rural 19th-century village, complete with artisans in traditional costumes working at their trades. These attract many visitors and have been televised on RAI, the national public broadcasting company of Italy. In 2010, the old city of Matera in Basilicata hosted the world's largest living nativity scene of the time, which was performed in the historic center, Sassi.[10]

The tradition of the Christmas tree, of Germanic origin, was also widely adopted in Italy during the 20th century. It seems that the first Christmas tree in Italy was erected at the Quirinal Palace at the behest of Queen Margherita, towards the end of the 19th century.[1] In 1991, the Gubbio Christmas Tree, 650 meters high and decorated with over 700 lights, entered the Guinness Book of Records as the tallest Christmas tree in the world.[11]

In Italy, the oldest Christmas market is considered to be that of Bologna, held for the first time in the 18th century and linked to the feast of Saint Lucy.[12] The tradition of the markets has however spread in Italy predominantly especially since the 1990s of the 20th century, with the birth of the first modern markets: among these, the first ever was that of Bolzano, born in 1991, which was followed by others in the area of Alto Adige,[13] in particular in Merano, Bressanone, Vipiteno and Brunico.[14] The Trento Christmas market, established in 1993, is renowned in Trentino.[15] In Naples, where the tradition of the Neapolitan nativity scene has been famous for centuries, the exhibition of the nativity scenes made in the city's artisan shops is held every year in via San Gregorio Armeno.[16] Noteworthy are the Christmas markets at Piazza Navona in Rome,[17] in Verona, in Gubbio, in Alberobello, in Aosta, in Torino, in Asti, in Arezzo, in Florence, in Trieste, in Livigno, in Santa Maria Maggiore, Arco and in Cison di Valmarino.[18][19][20]

Strenna or Strenna di Natale is a gift that is usually made or received in Italy at Christmas time. This custom comes from the tradition of ancient Rome which involved the exchange of gifts of good wishes during the Saturnalia, a series of festivities that took place each year between 17 and 23 December, in honor of the mythical god Saturn and preceding the day of the Natalis Solis Invicti. The term derives from the Latin Strena, word probably of Sabine origin, with the meaning "gift of good luck."

Typically Italian tradition is instead that of the zampognari (sg.: Zampognaro), or men dressed as shepherds and equipped with zampogna, a double chantered bagpipes, who come down from the mountains, playing Christmas music.[21] This tradition, dating back to the 19th century, is particularly widespread in the South of the country.[22] A description of the Abruzzese zampognari is provided by Héctor Berlioz in 1832.[21]

Typical bearers of gifts from the Christmas period in Italy are Saint Lucy (13 December), Christ Child, Babbo Natale (the name given to Santa Claus), and, on Epiphany, the Befana.[23]

According to tradition, the Christmas Eve dinner must not contain meat. A popular Christmas Day dish in Naples and in Southern Italy is female eel or capitone, which is a female eel. A traditional Christmas Day dish from Northern Italy is capon (gelded chicken). Abbacchio is more common in Central Italy.[24] The Christmas Day dinner traditionally consists by typical Italian Christmas dishes, such as agnolini, cappelletti, Pavese agnolotti, panettone, pandoro, torrone, panforte, struffoli, mustacciuoli, bisciola, cavallucci, veneziana, pizzelle, zelten, or others, depending on the regional cuisine.[25] Christmas on 25 December is celebrated with a family lunch, also consisting of different types of pasta and meat dishes, cheese and local sweets.


Main article: Easter in Italy

Abbacchio, an Italian preparation of lamb
Scoppio del carro at Florence Cathedral on Easter Sunday

Easter in Italy (Italian: Pasqua) is one of the country's major holidays.[26] In Italy, there are many traditions related to Easter. Traditional Italian dishes for the Easter period are abbacchio, cappello del prete, casatiello, Colomba di Pasqua, pastiera, penia, pizza di Pasqua and pizzelle. Abbacchio is an Italian preparation of lamb typical of the Roman cuisine.[27][28] It is a product protected by the European Union with the PGI mark.[29] In Romanesco dialect, the offspring of the sheep who is still suckling or recently weaned is called abbacchio, while the offspring of the sheep almost a year old who has already been shorn twice is called agnello ("lamb").[30] This distinction exists only in the Romanesco dialect.[30] Eating lamb at Easter has a religious meaning.[31] The Paschal Lamb of the New Testament is in fact, for Christianity, the son of God Jesus Christ.[32] The Paschal Lamb, in particular, represents the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the sins of humanity.[31] Colomba di Pasqua (English: "Easter Dove") is an Italian traditional Easter bread, the Easter counterpart of the two well-known Italian Christmas desserts, panettone and pandoro.

In Versilia, as a sign of forgiveness, but this time towards Jesus, the women of the sailors kiss the earth, saying: "Terra bacio e terra sono - Gesù mio, chiedo perdono" ("I kiss the earth and earth I am - my Jesus, I ask for forgiveness").[33] In Abruzzo, however, it is the custom of farmers during Easter to add holy water to food.[33] Holy water is also used in Julian March, where half a glass is drunk on an empty stomach, before eating two hard-boiled eggs and a focaccia washed down with white wine.[33]

Another symbol used during the Easter period is fire. In particular, in Coriano, in the province of Rimini, bonfires are lit on Easter Eve.[33] At the same time, the blessed fire is brought to the countryside in the autonomous province of Bolzano.[33] Bonfires are also lit in San Marco in Lamis, this time lit on a wheeled cart.[33]

In Florence, the use of sacred fire has changed over time: before the year one thousand candles were in fact brought into the houses which were lit by a candle which was, in turn, lit through a lens or a flint; at the beginning of the 14th century, instead, three pieces of flint were used that according to tradition came from the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.[33] These pieces of flint were donated to the Pazzi family by Godfrey of Bouillon.[33] Later, the use of the sacred fire in Florence materialized in a chariot full of fireworks (Scoppio del carro).[33]

The Cavallo di fuoco is an historical reconstruction which takes place in the city of Ripatransone in the Province of Ascoli Piceno. It is a fireworks show, which traditionally occurs eight days after Easter.[34] The show goes back to 1682 when, on the occasion of celebrations in honor of the Virgin Mary, the local dwellers hire a pyrotechnician who, once the spectacle was over, took all his remaining fireworks and shot riding his horse. This extemporized action struck the citizens who began to recall it yearly. In the 18th century a mock steed replaced the animal and the fireworks were assembled upon it. Originally it was made of wood, and until 1932 it was carried on the shoulders of the most robust of citizens. Later it was considered more convenient to equip it with wheels and a rudder and have it towed by volunteers equipped with protective clothing and accessories. In 1994 a new sheet iron horse, built on the model of the previous one, took the place of the wooden one.[35]

New Year's Eve

Cotechino, polenta and lentils

In Italy, New Year's Eve (Italian: Vigilia di Capodanno or Notte di San Silvestro) is celebrated by the observation of traditional rituals, such as wearing red underwear.[36] An ancient tradition in southern regions which is rarely followed today was disposing of old or unused items by dropping them from the window.[37] Usually the evening is spent with family or friends in a square (where concerts or various parties are organised) but also at home. Generally, starting from 10 seconds before midnight, it is customary to count down until reaching zero, thus wishing a happy new year, toasting with spumante and watching or lighting fireworks, shooting firecrackers or guns loaded with blanks. Dinner is traditionally eaten with relatives and friends. It often includes zampone or cotechino (a meal made with pig's trotters or entrails), lentils and (in Northern Italy) polenta. At 20:30, the President of Italy's address to the nation, produced by RAI, the state broadcaster, is broadcast countrywide on radio and TV networks.[38] At midnight, fireworks are displayed all across the country. Rarely followed today is the tradition that consist in eating lentil stew when the bell tolls midnight, one spoonful per bell. This is supposed to bring good fortune; the round lentils represent coins.[39]

Patron saint festivals

Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy, New York

The Italian national patronal day, on 4 October, celebrates Saints Francis and Catherine. Each city or town also celebrates a public holiday on the occasion of the festival of the local patron saint,[40] for example: Rome on 29 June (Saints Peter and Paul), Milan on 7 December (Saint Ambrose), Naples on 19 September (Saint Januarius), Venice on 25 April (Saint Mark the Evangelist) and Florence on 24 June (Saint John the Baptist). Notable traditional patronal festivals in Italy are the Feast of Saints Francis and Catherine, the Festival of Saint Agatha, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the Feast of San Gennaro and the Feast of Our Lady of the Hens.


Main article: Carnival in Italy

Carnival of Venice

Where the Ambrosian rite is observed, that is, in most of the churches of the archdiocese of Milan and in some of the neighboring dioceses, the Carnival (Italian: Carnevale) ends on the first Sunday of Lent; the last day of carnival is Saturday, 4 days later than the Tuesday when it ends where the Roman rite is observed. Above all, the Carnival of Venice and the Carnival of Viareggio, but also the Carnival of Ivrea have a reputation that goes beyond national borders and are popular with tourists from both Italy and abroad.[41] These carnivals include sophisticate masquerades and parades. A completely different form or Carnival takes place in Sardinia, based on rituals to awaken the earth after Winter, possibly descending from pre-Christian traditions.


Main article: Sagra (festival)

See also: Italian cuisine

The Sagra dell'uva in Marino, celebrating grapes

In Italy, a sagra (plural: sagre) is a popular festival of a local nature and annual frequency, which traditionally arises from a religious festival, celebrated on the occasion of a consecration or to commemorate a saint (usually the patron saint), but also used to celebrate the harvest or promote a food and wine product local.[42] During a festival the local fair, the market and various celebrations usually take place.[42]

A sagra is often dedicated to some specific local food, and the name of the sagra includes that food; for example: Festival delle Sagre astigiane, a Sagra dell'uva (grapes) at Marino, a Sagra della Rana (frog) at Casteldilago near Arrone, a Sagra della Cipolla (onion) at Cannara, a Sagra della Melanzana ripiena (stuffed eggplant) at Savona, a Sagra della Polenta at Perticara di Novafeltria, a Sagra del Lattarino at Bracciano, a Sagra del Frico at Carpacco-Dignano and so on. Among the most common sagre are those celebrating olive oil, wine, pasta and pastry of various kinds, chestnuts, and cheese.


Main article: Ferragosto

Ferragosto fireworks display in Padua

Ferragosto is a public holiday celebrated on 15 August in all of Italy. It originates from Feriae Augusti ("Festivals [Holidays] of the Emperor Augustus"), the festival of Augustus, who made 1 August a day of rest after weeks of hard work on the agricultural sector. As the festivity was created for political reasons, the Catholic Church decided to move the festivity to 15 August which is the Assumption of Mary allowing them to include this in the festivity. Food and board was not included, which is why even today Italians associate packed lunches and barbecues with this day. By metonymy, it is also the summer vacation period around mid-August, which may be a long weekend (ponte di ferragosto) or most of August.[43]

Historical competitions

See also: Sport in Italy

Historical competitions are widespread throughout the Italian national territory, such as the Palio, the name given in the country to an annual athletic contest, very often of a historical character, pitting the neighbourhoods of a town or the hamlets of a comune against each other. Typically, they are fought in costume and commemorate some event or tradition of the Middle Ages and thus often involve horse racing, archery, jousting, crossbow shooting, and similar medieval sports.[44] The Palio di Siena is the only one that has been run without interruption since it started in the 1630s and is definitely the most famous all over the world.[45]

Traditional events

See also: Regions of Italy

Boat of Saint Peter
Temporary bridge in Venice in Santa Maria del Giglio on the occasion of the pilgrimage of the Festa della Madonna della Salute [it]
The four vessels of the Regatta of the Historical Marine Republics. From the top to the left, clockwise, Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi
The Neapolitan nativity scene of the Royal Palace of Caserta.[46]
Calendimaggio in Assisi


See also: Abruzzo

Festival of the snake-catchers


See also: Apulia

Notte della Taranta


See also: Basilicata

Carnival of Satriano


See also: Calabria

Varia di Palmi


See also: Campania

Feast of Our Lady of the Hens


See also: Emilia-Romagna

Medieval pageant of the Palio of Ferrara

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Friuli-Venezia Giulia

See also: Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Barcolana regatta


See also: Lazio

Infiorata di Genzano [it]
Festa de Noantri [it]


See also: Liguria


See also: Lombardy

Ambrosian Carnival [it]
Palio di Legnano
La Scala, considered among the most prestigious theaters in the world[119]


See also: Marche

Carnival of Fano [it]
Cavallo di fuoco


See also: Molise



See also: Piedmont

Carnival of Ivrea


See also: Sardinia

Carnival of Tempio Pausania [it]
Sardinian Cavalcade [it]


See also: Sicily

Festival of Saint Agatha
Palio dei Normanni [it]


See also: Tuscany

Corteo Storico of the Palio di Siena
Calcio Fiorentino
Saracen Joust
Carnival of Viareggio
Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the second oldest music festival in Europe.[189]

Trentino-Alto Adige

See also: Trentino-Alto Adige

Carnival of Laives [it]


See also: Umbria

Infiorate di Spello


See also: Veneto

Carnival of Venice
Festa del Redentore
The Venice Film Festival is the oldest film festival in the world.[210]

See also


  1. ^ In the 1498 Roman martyrology, his martyrdom took place on the 13th day before the kalends of October, that is 19 September.[93]


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