August in Italy is a celebratory time as it marks the start of one of the biggest festivals, the Ferragosto. The Italian history of festivals is quite rich, and as with Ferragosto, many of these celebrations are deeply rooted in religious beliefs. With nearly 90% of the country being of Catholic faith, this is the religion most of these festivals are about. Ferragosto, on August 15th, is a National holiday which celebrates the belief that Mary, Jesus’ mother, was taken into heaven by God at her death. This festival involves processions of people carrying statues of Mary. In the city of Siena, the Palio di Siena, coincides with Ferragosto and to celebrate this, on August 16 horses will race around the Piazza in Siena. This is just one of many festivals held in Italy throughout the year. Other festivals include Epiphany and Befana, Festa Della Sensa, L’Ardia San Constantino, Festival Del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Fiesta di San Marco, and the Festino di Santa Rosalia, just to name a few.
The Ephiphany Befana is now a national holiday, and there is a spirited celebration of this holiday in Rome in particular. It is celebrated on the 12th day of Christmas where children celebrate the holy witch, Befana, and her arrival. This colorful celebration is showcased in Vatican City in particular, and this religiously significant holiday is one of the top festivals in Italy.
The Festa Della Sensa is celebrated largely in Venice by boat. Venice, long known for its wealth and as being a center of influence, this festival celebrates all that this storied city is about. At the end, a golden ring is thrown into the sea, and the symbolism is the blessing of St. Peter, and thus the continued expansion of Venice. This color festival takes place on the 19th and 20th of May annually in this water-locked city.
If anyone has been to Sardiana in July, they are aware that this time of year marks the L’ Ardia di San Constantino. This festival is one of the most celebrated horse riding festivals in the entire country. This tradition goes back to Constantine, and it celebrates the victory on Mulivane Bridge in 312 A.D..
One festival that is not rooted in religion, but rather celebrates classical music, is the Festival Del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. This takes place in Florence, which is the Italian city widely regarded as being the breeding ground of Italian Renaissance. This Western musical traditional festival takes place here celebrating some of the greatest classical composers of all time.
Back to religious festivals, the Fiesta di San Marco takes place in Venice, in April, and is a festival to celebrate Venice’s Patron Saint with a feast. In St. Mark’s Square, men can be seen giving single red roses to the women they love throughout this festival in a tradition called bocolo. This festival is truly memorable.
The Festino di Santa Rosalia is a festival that celebrates the patron saint of Palermo. This La Santuzza, or little saint, is said to have saved the entire city from plague in 1624, and this festival is celebrated with a huge chariot and shimmering lights are placed around the city. A fabulous fireworks celebration marks the end of this festival, and this part of the festival attracts many tourists and locals.
Many of the festivals in Italy are rooted in religion and are sprinkled throughout the annual calendar. In an country where most people are of one faith, this makes these national holidays particularly fun and festive. In areas in the United States that were marked by huge Italian immigration in the early 1900s, similar festivals were started, with the Feast of San Gennaro being one that is still widely celebrated in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston and a number of other cities. Originally started in 1926 by a group of Italian immigrants on Mulberry Street in which is now the Little Italy section of Manhattan, this tradition continues today and celebrates the patron saint of Naples, San Gennaro.
In the end, Italian people are very religious, and they ardently celebrate their beliefs with numerous festivals throughout the year.