If the year’s a body, today’s its head. That’s the literal meaning of Capodanno, the Italian for ‘New Year’s Day’.
It makes our name for January 1st seem boringly literal in comparison, but Italians call the first day of the new year the capo d’anno, or ‘head of the year’. (You might hear people refer to New Year’s Eve as Capodanno too; in fact that’s technically San Silvestro, but at this time of year who’s counting?)
The year’s head usually starts out a little sore: most Italians stay up all night celebrating – or being kept awake by others’ celebrations – so the public holiday is a chance to sleep it off and not much else. Unless, of course, you’re one of the certifiably insane people who choose to jump into the River Tiber on New Year’s Day (it’s a thing).
Interestingly, il Capodanno hasn’t always fallen on January 1st: some parts of Italy, especially Tuscany, used to celebrate March 25th as the turn of the year, since it was the date that Christians believe the Virgin Mary was told she was to become the mother of Christ. Meanwhile the Venetians fixed March 1st, the coming of spring, as their new year, while parts of southern Italy followed the Byzantine calendar, which has the year starting on September 1st.
As a result in Sardinian dialect September is called Cabudanni, and it’s the month in which the new year of farm work begins.
But one Capodanno that didn’t take off was October 29th, the date of Benito Mussolini’s March on Rome and accession to power. The Fascists chose the date as the New Year’s Day of their Era Fascista, a calendar of their own making. So keen were they to replace the regular calendar with their own that in December 1939, they ordered newspapers not to write about a certain date coming up that Italians were no longer supposed to celebrate.
Needless to say, the scheme was just as dumb as the rest of their ideas, and happily Italy continues to celebrate the New Year on January 1st.
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