Why is Good Friday not a holiday in Italy?

Italy is known for observing a generous number of religious holidays - but Good Friday isn't among them. Here's why you don't get a day off before the Easter weekend.

Why is Good Friday not a holiday in Italy?
A cross is illuminated at Rome's Colosseum prior the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) torchlight procession on Good Friday, 2017. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

There are a total of 11 national public holidays a year in Italy – and that’s not including feast days for local patron saints.

So it seems bizarre that Good Friday would be excluded from the list, especially when it’s a day off even in non-Catholic countries including the UK, Germany and Sweden.

READ ALSO: The Italian holiday calendar for 2022

The key word here is ‘celebrate’. You don’t get a day off because it’s not a celebration: instead it’s a day of mourning, marking the day that Christians believe Jesus died on the cross.

It’s known as Venerdì Santo in Italy, or Holy Friday. The country’s Catholic faithful spend it in sombre mood, with many churches cloaking statues in black, purple or dark red covers.

The day is part of Holy Week, which starts the Sunday before Easter Sunday. It’s preceded by Giovedì Santo, Maundy Thursday, which sees the Pope wash the feet of others, just as Jesus did for his disciples.

But Good Friday is a much quieter affair, with no masses held – and the lack of obligation to attend mass is though to be the main reason this was not made a public holiday.

Worshipers attend the Via Crucis torchlight procession at Rome’s ancient Colosseum. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

But, though they might not be called celebrations, there is certainly a lot of pomp and ceremony for a day not classed as a national holiday.

The most famous event is probably the Via Crucis, in Rome. Participants follow as a cross is carried around all 14 Stations of the Cross, saying a prayer at each one. The event culminates in lighting a cross made of candles, which is then carried to the ancient Colosseum.

Some of the biggest processions and other events are held in Sicily, which commonly sees thousands of people parade through the streets dressed in historical costumes, carrying sacred statues and playing traditional music. 

Sicilian towns have their own ways of marking the day, many of them heavily influenced by Spanish customs from the days when the island was under Spain’s rule.

One of the oldest continuous Good Friday events in Italy overall is the Processione del Cristo Morto – the procession of the dead Christ – in Chieti, Abruzzo.

During this spectacle, which dates back to the ninth century, onlookers get the opportunity to hear 100 violins play Miserere by the 18th-century composer and choir master Saverio Selecchy, a native of the town. 

Even though businesses are open, you’ll find that not everything is running on Good Friday. Schools, for example close their doors until the Tuesday or Wednesday after Easter Monday.

Easter Monday, by the way, also known as Pasquetta, or ‘little Easter’, is a national holiday and a day off work for most. The liturgy has passed, the grief subsided, and so the celebrations resume.

Member comments

  1. The main reason is that mass is not held on Good Friday. Religious holidays were granted to allow for people to attend mass on days of ‘holy obligation’. Roman catholics are required to go to mass on these days, such as Christmas day, the Assumption, the Epiphany and All Saints. Good Friday is not a holy day of obligation, hence a holiday was never granted.

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‘Cows raided my garden’: Readers share their craziest stories about life in Italy

From surprise connections to rampaging cows, here are some of our readers' favourite 'only in Italy' moments.

‘Cows raided my garden’: Readers share their craziest stories about life in Italy

Whether you’ve been to Italy once on holiday or have lived here most of your life, you’re bound to have a colourful story or two to tell about your time in the bel paese.

Over the years, The Local’s members have shared with us all sorts of accounts of their experiences of life in Italy – from capers at the Post Office to striking up a friendship with a 97-year-old stranger.

We recently put out a call for your favourite ‘only in Italy’ stories, from the unexpected to the special to the bizarre, and you didn’t disappoint.

Here’s what you had to say.

Surprise connections and hair-raising traffic

With the Italian diaspora scattered all over the world, it’s not uncommon for second, third, or even fourth generation descendants of Italian emigrants to pay a visit to their ancestors’ home town and bump into someone who remembers their family.

That’s exactly what happened to American Gloria Di Pietro when she went on holiday to Italy: “I was in an alimentari in Civitaretenga & started talking to a woman there about my grandfather who was born in Civita. She invited me to her home to meet her mother and grandmother.”

READ ALSO: Ten Italian lifestyle habits to adopt immediately

“When I told her mother who my grandfather was she ran into another room and came out with a photo album. It turns out that her great uncle married my grandfather’s sister, my great aunt & the album was full of photos of my family in Massachusetts!”

As you might expect, some readers’ most lasting impressions of Italy centre on the country’s distinctive driving culture.

Peter MacDonald, ‘a Scot in Garfagnana’, says he once observed “someone reversing round a roundabout because they missed the exit”.

And Judy Tong, who hails from Hong Kong and lives in Palermo, says she’s shocked to regularly see entire families crammed on to a single Vespa:

“A child standing between the handlebar and the saddle, papa sits at the front part of the saddle driving, while mamma sits at the rear end, in between them like the ham of a sandwich is another child or baby… none wears a helmet.”

Vespa scooters aren't just style statements: they can transport entire families.
Vespa scooters aren’t just style statements: they can transport entire families.

Bovine antics and musical ambushes

If Italy’s roads can make your jaw drop, don’t make the mistake of thinking that sticking to the countryside will keep you from witnessing – or even getting roped into – some comic escapades, as one reader recounts:

“Staying at the in-laws’ house, we popped back on our last evening to check if the rubbish and furniture had been collected by the council and found our elderly neighbour (Jackie) flapping her arms, pointing and shouting “mucca, mucca!’

“Apparently our lovingly-tended space had had three enormous cows in it all afternoon.

“Now long-gone, they had swaggered down the road, found our newly opened garden gate and wandered in, upending the table and chairs as they went, snapping off branches, knocking over my newly planted flower pot and merrily eating all the apples! There were hoof marks in the grass, cow pats everywhere and most of our fruit had been eaten… Anyone need any manure for their roses??”

Meanwhile, in a reminder that Italy’s underpopulated hill towns are often less moribund than they might first appear, one Canadian in Abruzzo recalls having a nap in a sleepy, remote mountain hamlet “when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a 20-person band passed by playing music, right under my second-floor window.”

READ ALSO: ‘Five ways a decade of living in Italy has changed me’

On a different note, at least one foreign resident has noticed the special relationship many Italians have with their pets.

“Only in Italy do dogs eat linguine con vongole and eggplant parmigiana for lunch,” says an American whose partner’s Pugliese parents insist it would be unkind not to feed their dogs the same meals as the human members of the family. The vongole (clam) shells are “painstakingly removed dalla nonna“, he clarifies.

Slip-ups, scams, and saints

Italy’s bureaucracy is infamous, so it’s unsurprising that at least one person’s ‘only in Italy’ moment concerns a brush with the tax authorities.

Eric Hompe, an American who lives in Piedmont, says he recently went to his local tax office to have his property taxes assessed, which involved “the obligatory chit-chat about acquaintances in our small town.”

“No sooner had I left the bank when my phone rang. It was the tax office: they had tracked my cell number down through the mutual acquaintance we had chit-chatted about earlier, and were calling to inform me that they had made a mistake – I actually didn’t owe any property tax at all for that year!

“I quickly returned to the bank and waited anxiously for my number to be called, hoping I was in time to cancel the transfer I had previously made. Fortunately, I was! This misadventure cost me an entire morning, and when I think about it I still shake my head in disbelief.”

READ ALSO: ‘Nanna’s gone for a quickie’: Readers reveal their funniest Italian language gaffes

You can expect to spend plenty of time on (sometimes unnecessary) bureaucracy at the town hall if you move to Italy.
You can expect to spend plenty of time on (sometimes unnecessary) bureaucracy at the town hall if you move to Italy. Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

Some anecdotes illustrate a darker side to life in Italy.

Writes one Rome-based respondent: “When we first moved in to our apartment, the real estate agent – who worked for one of the largest, most well-known agencies in Italy! – told us to pay our deposit and first month’s rent into his wife’s personal bank account because that’s what he had agreed with the landlord.”

“This seemed unlikely, so we called the landlord, who had no idea what we were talking about; when we called the agent back to say what we had learned, he simply said ‘OK’, and hung up the phone.

“He remained our real estate agent for the next seven years that we lived in the flat and no one ever acknowledged the attempted fraud.”

READ ALSO: 13 essential articles you’ll need when moving to Italy

“Here’s one – my ex-landlord messaged me today saying there’s an outstanding bill from Fastweb for €30 sent to the apartment in my name,” writes another Rome resident who recently moved away from Italy. “I never signed a contract with Fastweb…”

But if you need to be on your guard against the odd Italian truffa, there’s also the warm, generous side to the country, as Mia Nielsen in Paris fondly recalls: “A doctor working in Chiusi backed up on the motorway to rescue me, my husband and little baby when our rental car broke down on our way to Rome airport one summer about 10 years ago. He was on his way to Napoli where his family lived.”

“Instead of dropping us at the nearest petrol station, he drove us to the airport just in time for us to catch our flight back to Paris. We did not get his name and he refused to take any money for helping us. We will never forget his kindness.”

Have you had any ‘only in Italy’ experiences of your own? We’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.