Travel Inspiration: The Festivals and Holidays of Italy Winter to Spring
While many travelers focus on summer travel, there are many different festivals and events throughout Italy that one can enjoy during Winter. From ancient folklore traditions to religious celebrations, traveling to Italy during this time period can be a fun-filled exploration.
Befana and Ephiphany - January
When it comes to celebrations the time around Christmas is magical. Christmas in Italy starts in early December and is just the beginning for Italians. Christmas itself starts the twelve days of Christmas and culminates in Ephiphany, January 6th. It is a time where folklore and religious significance meet in celebration, starting with the legend of Befana.
Befana is similar to Santa Claus, an old woman who delivers gifts to children the night before Ephiphany on January 5th. Many stories of Befana include her travelling but unable to find the Baby Jesus so she delivers her gifts to children instead (or a lump of coal if you’re bad). The largest Befana Festival is held in Urbania with parades, concerts and even an opportunity to have La Befana deliver presents to children. In Venice, the Epiphany Regatta hosts 50 men dressed as La Befana to race up the Grand Canal.
The Feast of Epiphany (called Epifania) ends the Twelve Days of Christmas. Commemorating the visit of the Wise Men bearing gifts there are many events throughout Italy. In Rome, there is celebration in many festive markets and parades, with the Pope presiding over Mass at the Vatican. In Florence, a historical recreation of the Procession of the Magi takes place.
Carnevale - January / February
Carnevale is celebrated throughout the world, starting at the end of January. Carnevale in Venice is a spectacular event. From lighted shows on the water, parades and costumed dinners there are so many events to do and see, it may be impossible to participate in all. But if Venice isn’t the stop perhaps the Carnevale di Viareggio might be in order. Located in Viareggio, Northern Coast of Tuscany, giant, allegorical papier-maché floats turn the town into an experience, where spectators become participants. In the Historical Carnival of Ivrea, feasts, parades and the Battle of the Oranges bring history and spectacle to life for visitors. The dates of Carnevale change each year, but you can watch the celebrations on Venice’s YouTube Channel
Other Festivals and Events - February/March
- Saint Valentine is celebrated in his home town of Ternia in Umbria on Valentine’s Day. But lovers might want venture to the Verona in Love Festival. Each year visitors can enjoy the many ‘love-inspired’ sites such as Juliet’s Balcony and even run or walk in the Romeo and Juliet half marathon.
- Bologna International Fair of Modern and Contemporary Art (Artefiera) hosts thousands of artists. Their website now offers virtual offerings and glimpses of prior year’s exhibits. http://www.artefiera.it/en/home/776.html
- Festa Della Donna, Women’s Day, is celebrated on International Women’s Day and throughout Italy. But another Saint Agatha (Sant’Agata) or Agatha of Sicily, is celebrated by millions with Feast of Saint Agatha in Catania.
- The Festa della Primavera aka Festival of Spring is a feast for the eyes that starts in late March. Cities throughout Italy are decorated with beautiful flowers. This is a great time for leisurely walks to enjoy the sites decorated in spectacular colors of spring, while enjoying the tastes of spring from nearby food festivities.
- Another celebration feast complete with festivals and parades is the Feast of Saint Joseph. La Festa Di San Giuseppe can last for five days in some places and takes place around March 19. The Father of Jesus, Italy celebrates with food traditions and family celebrations. The small town of Torrita di Siena hosts Palio dei Somari or the race of the donkeys. Many towns host a large festive dinner with food contributed from the community and a blessing from the local priest.
- Those in Florence and Pisa celebrate the New Year on March 25th each year, the date before the existence of the Gregorian calendar. Coinciding with the Annunciation, there are historical processions, parades, dinners and many events to enjoy.
There are many festivals and events to enjoy. Consulting with one of our travel designers about lesser-known vacation destinations, outdoor travel options and safe travel practices is a smart move. Our travel designers are experts in travel in Italy and beyond.
Jennie Olson Six
Cultural Italy Staff Writer
Revised January 5, 2021