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ITALY EXPLAINED

Feast of the Immaculate Conception: Why is Italy on holiday today?

You may know that December 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and that it's a public holiday. But what is it all about?

Feast of the Immaculate Conception: Why is Italy on holiday today?
Prayers at the statue of the Virgin Mary. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

This year, the traditional big family lunch might have to be on a smaller scale than usual. But December 8th falls on a Wednesday, meaning we get a day off work. For many Italians this holiday marks the beginning of the Christmas period.

What are we celebrating?

This Catholic feast day marks the Immaculate Conception, which many may imagine was Mary’s conception of Jesus.

In fact, it actually marks the conception of Mary herself. Her mother Saint Anne became pregnant in the usual, biological way, Catholics believe, but the conception was ‘immaculate’ because God intervened, absolving Mary of original sin.

READ ALSO: How to celebrate Christmas like an Italian

According to Catholic dogma, all humans are born with original sin, which is why babies are baptized shortly after birth to make them “worthy” of entry to Heaven. But Mary was never tainted by original sin, kept “immaculate” from the moment of her conception because God knew she would one day give birth to Jesus Christ.

While the event has been marked since as early is the seventh century, December 8th was first officially declared a holy day by the Vatican in 1854 by Pope Pius IX.

How is it marked?

This year, of course, due to the coronavirus restrictions the usual gatherings and public events won’t be possible.

Special masses can however go ahead, with safety precuations in place.

Usually on December 8th, the pope lays a wreath at the foot of the 12-metre tall Colonna della Immacolata, by the statue of the Madonna in Rome’s Piazza Mignanelli, while members of the Italian fire service place another floral wreath on the arm of the statue.

For Italians it also means a day off work (if the holiday falls on a weekday) and getting together for a big family lunch.

There are plenty of other celebrations creating a festive atmosphere in streets and squares across the country, with parades, music and street entertainment.

READ ALSO: The Italian holiday calendar for 2021

Festive markets in Mantova on December 8th, 2018. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local.

In Abruzzo it’s traditional to celebrate around a bonfire, with fire symbolizing purity, fertility and love. Other places hold torchlit processions and firework displays.

Does this mean everything will be closed?

Because the holiday falls during Advent, many shops in bigger towns stay open to allow for Christmas shopping.

However, make sure you check transport before trying to go anywhere, as most bus and rail routes will be running on a limited service.

READ ALSO: The food and drink you need for an Italian Christmas feast

As usual, government offices, post offices, banks and schools are closed for the public holiday, so it’s not a good time to catch up on admin.

If it falls on a weekend, or you’ve got a day off work, the best thing to do is make like the Italians, and spend the day eating a big meal and enjoying the festive displays.

The beginning of Christmas

You may also notice that many towns put up their Christmas trees and other decorations in the days around December 8th.

Unofficially for many people in Italy the Christmas holidays begin on December 8th meaning many take an extended holiday, and everything (especially anything administration-related) noticeably slows down from this point on.

Especially if you’re in a smaller Italian town, you might want to get any paperwork done before this period – or otherwise you may have to wait until the Italian Christmas period ends, after January 6th.

This is an updated version of an article originally published in 2018.

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EXPLAINED: Why are Italians angry at streaming platform DAZN?

The latest controversy to affect Italy, eliciting reactions from everyone from football fans to politicians, involves the streaming platform DAZN. Here's what's going on.

EXPLAINED: Why are Italians angry at streaming platform DAZN?

If you want to anger an Italian, one sure way is to take away their football games. This is exactly what happened on Sunday evening when the streaming platform DAZN logged users off just before the Serie A matches.

The bug couldn’t have come at a worse time.

The streaming platform has exclusive rights to the Italian first league, Serie A, and earlier this year announced a €29.99 monthly subscription and stricter rules limiting device access and blocking simultaneous viewing from different locations in an effort to curb “piracy”.

This is the first round of Serie A football matches since the new prices came in on DAZN. The championship is also coming back during the summer holidays when most Italians are home ready to watch their calcio, as Italians call soccer

READ ALSO: Italian word of the day: ‘Azzurro’

Many have complained that the new high prices come with a lousy service, with Sunday’s “blackout” only the most recent example. Users were given “emergency links” to log in, but many complained they could still not access the programme.

Politicians join the aggravation

Not only did the hashtag #DAZN go up the list of Italy’s trending topics (and it still holds a premium spot over there), but the dispute became political.

The country’s Democratic Party (PD) said: “tens of thousands of citizens have paid for a service in advance and now suffer with a shameful disservice, in almost all parts of Italy, for the problems with DAZN Italy”.

The party called on Agcom, the regulator and competition authority for the communication industries, and Serie A to intervene.

Politicians from all political spectrums have commented on the issue, including Carlo Calenda, Matteo Salvini (Lega), and Maurizio Gasparri (Forza Italia). Football players such as Daniele de Rossi and other Italian celebrities also complained about the lack of service.

READ ALSO: Home entertainment: a quick guide to video streaming, VPNs and audiobooks

On Sunday evening, the streaming service released a statement, later deleted, recognising the connection issues. “Some users are currently experiencing access issues on our platform. We are working hard to find a solution as soon as possible and apologise for the inconvenience.”, the company said.

What will happen now?

Most of the politicians said they would bring the problems to parliament or Italy’s communication regulator. The main issue is DAZN’s exclusivity rights to Italian football.

The problems will likely influence future decisions on who has the rights to show the games – with broadcaster Sky, which used to have broadcast rights to the matches, looking into getting back on the field.

Of course, nothing is certain yet, and at least for this season, DAZN will continue to transmit games to its subscribers.

One thing seems to be sure, though: If there is one issue that can unite all Italians, it is football.

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