Italian Holidays

Italy observes many of the same holidays as here in the US - but some Italian holidays are definitely done bigger and better. As a historic center for religious activity, most of the Catholic holidays take on much grander import. Throughout holy week, Italy contains all kinds of traditional ceremonies - the most famous being the procession that passes by the august walls of the Colosseum before winding its way through the Roman Forum and up Palatine Hill. It is led by none other than the Pope himself. It"s the holiest of Italian holidays; the week is then capped off by his annual Easter speech from St. Peter"s Square.

Though it is not originally an Italian holiday, Venice has become the place to be on Carnevale. This is partially due to its celebrated history as a place where the rich and poor could cavort together behind the anonymity of colorful masks, but also due to its setting - the beautiful and vaguely mystical squares of Venice. Crowds of omnipresent revelers spend almost two weeks sacking the city with lavish balls, loud parades and mile after mile of free music and food. If possible, every attempt should be made to spend this holiday in Italy.

The best events in Italy, however, are the ones exclusive to the country. Il Palio is located in the Tuscan hill town of Siena, an unruly and exhilarating horse race whose history dates back to the middle ages. If you think football in Europe gets some people riled up, wait until you see this summer spectacle, where seventeen Sienese neighborhoods compete for a year"s worth of bragging rights. If you can get out alive, this holiday in Italy will not be forgotten.

In Verona, the month of July is devoted to the annual Shakespeare festival, where visitors can see plays such as Romeo and Juliet performed in their original settings. Theater groups from all over dispatch themselves across the accommodating streets of Verona, performing many of the bard"s classic stories.

Venice is often overrun with tourists - and even more come for the Venice international film festival held each August. Yet it is still one of the premier events in Italy, as directors, actors and producers share the city with film aficionados, a gathering second only to Cannes in terms of international prestige.

In one of the only known festivals to honor a fungus, visitors can feel free to join in with the pigs of the Piedmont region to scour the town of Alba for truffles. The festival, called Sagra del Tartufo, is held the first Sunday of every October.

It seems that every opera buff in the northern hemisphere descends onto Milan every year for their own personal holiday in Italy - the season opener in arguably the world"s finest opera house, the La Scala. One of the major events in Italy, tickets for the first show - performed every year the feast day of Milan"s patron saint, St. Ambrogio's - are among the toughest finds in the world. Italian holidays are a great way to experience the culture of Italians.

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