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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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LIVING IN ITALY

Eight things to expect when you move to Italy’s Veneto region

The northern Italian region of Veneto attracts millions of tourists every year. But what's it like to live there? From living costs to drinking habits, here are some of the things new residents should expect, according to The Local's Venetian reporter Giampietro Vianello.

Eight things to expect when you move to Italy's Veneto region

Let’s face it, most foreign nationals don’t think of Veneto when asked what their favourite Italian region is. However, much like the more widely celebrated Tuscany and Lazio, Veneto is visited by millions of tourists every year – 72 million, in fact, according to the latest available data.

Although Venice, the crown jewel of the area, makes a large contribution to this figure with nearly 13 million visitors every year, the region has plenty of other popular locations including Verona, Padua, Vicenza and Cortina d’Ampezzo.

READ ALSO: Why Verona should be the next Italian city you visit

As well as attracting tourists, Veneto is also home to over 500,000 foreign nationals – accounting for 10.5 percent of the region’s total population.

While many people might know what visiting Veneto is like, how many are familiar with the perks (and downsides) of residing in the region?

Whether you’ve always dreamt of relocating to the area or are simply curious, here’s a look at some of the things new residents can expect.

Rent is fairly cheap – with some big exceptions

The average monthly rent in Veneto is 10.05 euros per square metre, according to Italian property portal Immobilare.it – a figure which sits roughly in the middle of the pack nationally. However, said average is for the most part driven up by high and, in some cases, outright extortionate rents in Venice and Belluno. 

READ ALSO: Ten things to expect when renting an apartment in Italy

In particular, Belluno has the second-highest monthly average in Italy with its 16.94 euros per square metre (Milan comes in first with 17.98 euros).

Outside of the above-mentioned places, renting in Veneto is largely affordable, with the average monthly rent price remaining below 10 euros per square metre in five of the seven regional provinces (Treviso, Rovigo, Verona, Vicenza, and Padua).

Rent prices in Veneto, screenshot from https://www.immobiliare.it/mercato-immobiliare/veneto/
An overview of Veneto’s average monthly rent prices. Map: Immobiliare.it

An overview of Veneto’s average monthly rent prices. Map: Immobiliare.it

Locals are not always friendly towards foreigners

Disclaimer: I, the writer of this article, was born and raised in Veneto (Venice, to be exact) and I’m aware that the following words might be seen as an unpardonable act of treason against the Serenissima.

Hoping that one day I’ll be forgiven, I have to admit that most of my fellow Veneti have a rather unfriendly attitude towards foreigners (or foresti in the local dialect).

While the reasons for such a peculiar phenomenon should be discussed elsewhere, locals’ rather unwelcoming manners are particularly evident in the food and beverage industry. In fact, it isn’t rare for foreign nationals to have an additional 10 or 15 percent tacked on their bar or restaurant bills just because…well, they’re foreign. 

Clearly, these are questionable business decisions; considering that the economy of most big cities in Veneto relies heavily on tourism, restaurant or bar owners should have a stake in treating foreign nationals and Italians equally well.

With that being said, no such opinion is likely to alter the way things are. Locals like to deal with locals and – take it from a Veneto born and bred – this is not going to change anytime soon.

Driving is by far the best way to get around

Shoddy public transport is sadly something that most Italian residents experience. Alas, Veneti are no exception. Public transport in the region was already significantly flawed prior to the start of the Covid pandemic. Now, after months of cuts to the public infrastructure budget, the situation is just outright bad. 

In the mainland, major cities are connected by rail, whereas smaller towns and villages are serviced by buses. In both cases, punctuality is not exactly a strong point, if indeed there is any to speak of. Other than that, rides are few and far between and they are often overcrowded, which is possibly even more unpleasant than it normally is when living through a global pandemic.

Here, the biggest takeaway for prospective residents is that you’ll very often need to travel by car.

It may be useful to know that non-Italian driving licence holders can use their licences for 12 months after becoming a resident in Italy. 

EXPLAINED: How do you take your driving test in Italy?

For any Brits thinking of moving to the region, note that if you were an Italian resident before January 1st 2022, you can use your valid UK driving licence until 31 December 2022. However, after said date, you will likely have to exchange your British licence for an Italian one. To do so, as things stand you’ll be required to take a driving test in Italian. (You can follow The Local’s latest news updates on this issue here.)

If transport is fairly poor in the mainland, things get worse in the lagoon. Without delving too deep into Venice’s transport woes, city transport company ACTV was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy last summer. Though now showing feeble signs of recovery, the company offers services which some people might reasonably describe as tragic: From last-minute ride cancellations to overcrowded vaporetti (water buses) and monthly 24-hour staff strikes, residents of the floating city just can’t catch a break.

Luckily, Venice is a fairly small island and one can easily walk from one end to the other in less than 40 minutes. So in case taking the vaporetto is out of the question, get yourself a good pair of trainers and be ready to scurry along the city’s calli.

View of the Grand Canal and Rialto Bridge in Venice

A gondola ride to work is probably not going to be an option. Photo by Marco Bertorello/AFP.

Expect lots of weather talk

Weather in Veneto is highly dependent upon the area you’re living in. 

The region’s 18,000-square-kilometre territory encompasses three major climate zones: the Alpine area, with chilly summers and cold, snow-filled winters; the plains, with chilly winters and hot, humid summers; the coastal area, with relatively temperate winters and stifling summers marked by frequent rain storms. 

As you might have already noticed, Veneto has a very heterogeneous mix of climates and temperatures, so lovers of both hot and cool weather can find favourable conditions within the region.

It is worth pointing out that the calamitous high tides which Veneto has long featured in the news for only apply to the regional capital, Venice, and the other smaller islands scattered across its lagoon. So, if you’re not moving to such places, you won’t have to bother buying a pair of very unattractive waist-high waders.

The chronic overcrowding issue

While Venice is undoubtedly a massive draw for the region’s exceptional number of tourists, several other locations attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each month. In 2019 Veneto had as many as 10 cities listed amongst the 25 most popular Italian tourist destinations, according to national statistics agency Istat.

Granted, over the last two years the pandemic has shrunk the number of visitors, and Covid-19’s disastrous consequences still very much linger in our society. However, both national and international tourism are picking up again in Italy and the return of Venice’s former overcrowding issues appears to be just around the corner. 

High season is usually the time when local residents are forced to nudge their way through crowds of tourists just to get to work. Should you be so lucky to become a resident in the near future, we suggest you start building up your patience and practise your scusate e permesso.

READ ALSO: The very best Italian towns to move to – according to people who live in them

Crowded Saint Mark's Square in Venice

Venice tends to get exceptionally overcrowded during local holidays, including its iconic Carnival. Photo by AFP.

The dialetto matters

One of the more frustrating things about life in Veneto – especially if you’ve spent months  practising your Italian – is finding out that most residents actually speak another language half of the time, and that the language in question doesn’t resemble Italian in the slightest.

Veneto is in the top three Italian regions when it comes to the frequency with which dialect is spoken. Most locals, and, interestingly, many among the younger generations, adore speaking Venetian and, barring professional settings and formal occasions, they never fail to use it to communicate with one another.

IN MAPS: A brief introduction to Italy’s many local dialects

The dialect derives most of its grammatical rules and vocabulary from vulgar Latin, which makes it all but unintelligible to regular Italian speakers. 

For lack of a better way to describe it, the language sounds a little bit like spoken Spanish but with very hard, quasi-Scottish-sounding rolled Rs.

Although Scots might be slightly advantaged in the endeavour, learning Venetian is an incredibly hard undertaking for all foreign nationals. So, if that’s something you’re not quite willing to do, I suggest you at least try to memorise some of the most popular and widely used Venetian expressions.

Regularly including these in your daily interactions with the locals will greatly increase your chances of being treated in a friendly and welcoming manner.

Dialect frequency in Italy. Screenshot from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frequency_of_Dialect_Use_in_Italy_(2015).svg

Frequency of local dialect usage by Italian region. Image: Wikimedia commons

Never get into a drinking competition with a Veneto

When it comes to drinking in the Veneto region, believe all rumours.

Local residents are nationally (and perhaps even internationally) known as heavy drinkers and the evidence for that is not merely anecdotal. Veneto is the fourth Italian region when it comes to alcohol consumption, only behind Emilia Romagna, Trentino Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia.

Locals drink on practically any given social occasion and, take my word for it, they very rarely hold back.

You’ll rarely find anyone with as high a tolerance of alcohol as the average Veneto; therefore, try to refrain from playing alcohol-related games with one, unless, of course, drinking like a fish is part of your plan.

Alcohol consumption in Italy. Screenshot from https://www.epicentro.iss.it/passi/dati/alcol

Alcohol consumption data for all Italian regions. Source: Italian Higher Health Institute (ISS)

A peculiar local cuisine

Veneto’s cuisine doesn’t really belong within the bel paese’s cream of the crop. But, while it doesn’t deserve the international attention that the centuries-long culinary traditions of regions such as Tuscany, Lazio and Sicily enjoy, it is often wrongly discredited as plain and somewhat rudimentary.

Granted, Veneto’s most common dish, polenta (boiled cornmeal which may be served as a hot porridge or, alternatively, may be allowed to cool and solidify into a loaf), is not exactly a lavish one. However, the region’s cuisine includes a plethora of far more refined (and tasty) dishes, especially when it comes to seafood (try sarde in saòr and seppie al nero) and desserts (fritole and pinza).

Furthermore, Veneto usually gets a bad rap because of several fairly odd dishes that are absolutely adored by the locals – but that anyone who wasn’t born and raised in the region usually finds stomach-turning. 

Osei (spit-roasted small game birds such as larks, thrushes and house sparrows, usually served with polenta), moleche (fried soft-shell crab) and bovoletti (small land snails dressed with garlic and oil) are just some of these unique regional delicacies. 

While no one can really deny that these dishes are not exactly pleasing to the eye, my personal piece of advice on the subject comes in the form of a very popular Venetian expression: magna e tasi (literally, eat and be quiet).

Bonus entry: What’s the deal with the winged lion?

If you do end up relocating to Veneto, you’ll likely come across the emblem on a daily basis. From Veneto’s official flag to the facade of many churches and government buildings, the winged lion is seemingly omnipresent in the region. But, why is that so?

For long stretches of its history, most of the territory currently enclosed by Veneto’s borders was controlled by the powerful Venetian Republic (also known as La Serenissima). The latter is thought to have adopted the winged lion as its main effigy from as early as the 9th century AD.

The mythological creature symbolises Venice’s beloved patron saint, Saint Mark, whose remains are currently kept within the magnificent Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

Venice's winged lion

Venice’s iconic winged lion, symbolising the city’s patron saint, Mark the Evangelist. Photo by Filippo Monteforte/AFP.
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