Italy has fun and fascinating festivals every single month of the year, and the Italians don't miss the chance to enjoy as many as possible. You can, too, if you know what events take place each month. Here is a month-by-month rundown of the most popular and unusual Italian festivals, holidays and special events. Attending any one of these is a great way to experience Italian culture first-hand and make your vacation in Italy even more special.
Note when you travel that national holidays are public holidays when many workers have the day off and some tourism venues are closed. Check in advance if you plan on being in Italy during a public holiday. It might have to be a day of rest for you too.
January starts with New Year's Day. On January 6, Italians join the many other Europeans who celebrate Epiphany, an important holiday on the Christian calendar that marks the coming of the Magi bearing gifts. For children, it is the day they finally get their holiday toys and sweets that La Befana, an old woman riding a broomstick, delivered the night before. (If you're bad, you get lumps of coal!).
Also in January, Italians celebrate the feast days of San Antonio Abate and San Sebastiano, and, at the end of January, the Fair of Sant'Orso, an international woodcarving and handicrafts fair that's been held annually for about 1,000 years in Italy's Aosta Valley. It honors Saint Orso, a sixth-century Irish woodcarver, and monk who distributed wooden sandals to the Valley's poor.
Topping the list of February festivals in Italy is Carnevale, an event with parades and balls like a pre-Lenten Mardi Gras, that is celebrated as a final party before Ash Wednesday. In Catania, Sicily, a big festival held on Saint Agatha's feast day includes the second-largest religious procession in the world. Other February Italian festivals include Saint Biago Day, Saint Faustino's Day and an almond blossom fair at Agrigento, Sicily.
Songs and gifts of chocolate mark Italian festivals in March, which include La Festa della Donna, honoring women on March 8, and Saint Joseph's Day, or Father's Day, on March 19. In Venice, at the important Marriage of the Sea event, aka the Marriage of the Adriatic, boats come out to commemorate Venice's connection to the sea where it once held supremacy. March also marks the start of spring events, which in some years include Easter.
In April, you'll find Rome's birthday, the festival of San Marco in Venice, and Saint George's Day, especially popular in Portofino and Modica. Easter often falls in April and Italy's many food festivals start to occur for the season. April 25 is Italy's Liberation Day, a national holiday that commemorates the fall of Mussolini's Italian Social Republic and the end of the Nazis' World War II occupation of Italy in 1945.
May Day (May 1) in Italy is Labor Day, a national holiday to honor the achievements of the country's labor movement. This is also the date of Sardinia's most important festival, the four-day Sant Efisio procession. In May, there are plenty of spring festivals celebrating flowers and food and wine, and there are plenty of medieval re-enactments. Unusual May festivals in Italy include the Wedding of the Trees in Vetralla and the Snake Handlers' Procession in Abruzzo.
Summer in Italy is the season of outdoor festivals. Look for posters announcing a festa or sagra as you travel around the country.
June 2 is Festa della Repubblica, in English, Italian National Day or Republic Day. It marks the fall of fascism and the moment Italians voted after World War II to institute a republic and oust the monarchy. On June 24, it's the feast day of San Giovanni in Florence, when soccer games and fireworks honor the city's patron saint. Infiorata, colorful flower petal carpets that resemble paintings, are painstakingly pieced together in June (and May), usually on the Sunday of Corpus Domini (Corpus Christi) nine weeks after Easter. Beginning in June, too, Italian towns organize outdoor music concerts.
July is one of the busiest months for festivals in Italy. Siena holds its historic Palio horse race in the town square, and there are the much-loved Festa della Madonna Bruna in Matera and L'Ardia di San Costantino in Sardinia. You'll find food festivals, medieval festivals, and lots of fireworks all over the country. There are also many music festivals in July.
Ferragosto (Assumption Day) is a major Italian national holiday on August 15. In August, you'll find local festivals throughout Italy, where you can sample inexpensive regional food. Many Italians take vacations in August, often to the seaside, so you're more likely to find festivals there. You might even run across a medieval festival where people are dressed in medieval costumes. There are also many, many outdoor music performances in August.
In September, Italians return from their vacations. Many festivals take place on the first Sunday in September as summer comes to an end. During the month of September, you'll still find Italy local food festivals, which are a great place to mingle and sample regional food. Major September festivals include Venice's historic regatta, the Feast of San Gennaro in Naples and the feast day of San Michele.
October is a busy month for Italian food festivals, especially for mushrooms, chestnuts, chocolate, and truffles. On October weekends, you'll find fall food festivals and wine harvest celebrations all over Italy. Although Halloween is not such a big celebration in Italy, it is becoming more popular and you may find Halloween festivals, especially in the larger cities.
November 1 is All Saints Day, which is a national holiday. November is the height of white truffle season, and you'll find truffle fairs and chestnut festivals. Rome, which has many music, theater, and dance festivals in November, also hosts the important Rome International Film Festival, which attracts world premieres and global cinema stars.
Celebrations and events in December revolve around Christmas. In December, Italians celebrate the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, Santa Lucia Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Saint Stephen's Day and several other saints' feast days. There's a jazz festival in Orvieto, Umbria, and in Tuscany, there's a wild boar festival honoring the emblematic animal of Tuscany that is hunted November through January for its meat, which appears in ragùs and pasta such as pappardelle cinghiale (Tuscany's national dish). The month ends with New Year's Eve celebrations all over the country.