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Why November 4th is a holiday in Italy (even if you don't get a day off)

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Why November 4th is a holiday in Italy (even if you don't get a day off)
National Unity Day is celebrated every year with a display by the Italian Air Force. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
12:26 CET+01:00
November 4th is the Italian national holiday you've never heard of: National Unity Day.

But if you're wondering what you're doing still at work, you should know that it doesn't come with a day off.

Here's what this little-known celebration is all about.

Why is November 4th a holiday in Italy?

National Unity Day, or to give it its full title, the Giornata dell'Unità Nazionale e delle Forze Armate ('Day of National Unity and the Armed Forces'), commemorates the end of World War I for Italy.

It's celebrated on November 4th, the day an armistice ended the fighting between Italian forces and the battered Austro-Hungarian Army in 1918.

The so-called Armistice of Villa Giusti, named for the estate in Veneto where it was signed the day before, ended hostilities in north-east Italy and paved the way for Italian soldiers to occupy border regions in the Dolomites and on the Adriatic (current day Alto Adige/South Tyrol and Friuli-Venezia Giulia) that had previously belonged to Austria-Hungary's empire.


Map of Europe in 1923. Image: Fluteflute - CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

Italy declared the anniversary a holiday in 1919, dedicating it to its troops and the new territories for which they had fought. The incorporation of these areas, home to many ethnic Italians and Italian speakers, was seen by nationalists as completing the unification of Italy – hence the celebration of 'national unity'.

The occasion has been celebrated for 100 years since, making it one of Italy's oldest national holidays and one of the few to be observed before, during and after the Fascist era. While protesters of the 1960s and '70s objected to what they saw as the glorification of militarism and nationalism, the holiday survived, though celebrations became progressively smaller. 

In 1977 National Unity Day – which comes hot on the heels of the All Saints' Day holiday on November 1st – went from a public holiday to being marked on the first Sunday of November, thus abolishing the day off.

How does Italy celebrate November 4th now?

These days celebrations take place on November 4th itself. The main event is a military display at the Altare della Patria in Rome's Piazza Venezia, attended by the Italian president and minister of defence.

The head of state lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or Milite Ignoto, who was buried at the monument on November 4th, 1921.

This year President Sergio Mattarella paid tribute to the Italian military's role in international peacekeeping, thanking them for working to uphold "Italy's support for the protection of human rights and to prevent and combat terrorism".

There is also a fly-past by the air force's Frecce Tricolori aerial display team and a changing of the guards outside the president's palace.

Ceremonies are also held at war memorials and cemeteries around Italy. Military sites are sometimes opened exceptionally to the public, while members of the armed forces perform exercises or concerts in town squares.


Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Does Italy have any other non-holiday holidays?

Yep. National Unity and Armed Forces Day is one of eight in Italy that are considered official but not public holidays. They include the day of Italy's patron saints Francesco and Caterina on October 4th, as well as the anniversary of the unification of Italy on March 17th.

That's in addition to nearly 30 national and international days of commemoration or celebration that Italy recognizes, including Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27th), Europe Day (May 9th) and Christopher Columbus Day (October 12th). 

Unlike Italy's 11 national public holidays, none of the above get you the day off.

So when is the next public holiday in Italy?

Your next free day off in Italy is December 8th, the day that Roman Catholics mark the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.

EXPLAINED: What is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception?

After that, it's just a few weeks until Christmas Day, Saint Stephen's Day on December 26th, and New Year's Day.

 
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