Why is Good Friday not a holiday in Italy?

Why is Good Friday not a holiday in Italy?
Good Friday is not a national holiday in Italy, but it's still marked reverently. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP
As Italy is known for observing a generous number of religious days, it's curious that Good Friday isn't included in the holiday calendar. Here's why you don't get a day off before the Easter weekend.

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 2021

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.

Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

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 some people in Italy observe a fast in repentance of sins.

Processions usually take place up and down the country, with the most famous of those in Rome. The Via Crucis, the ‘Way of the Cross’, attracts tens of thousands of tourists and pilgrims, who watch the Pope lead a torchlit procession through the capital.

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

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.

Of course, this year – like in 2020 – processions will be limited and distanced to respect Covid-19 rules, with the Via Crucis taking place entirely within St Peter’s Square and watched only by a few dozen guests.

Monks stand by a candle-shaped cross outside the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi as part of a Via Crucis procession. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Religious processions would normally be held throughout Italy, including in Sicily, which commonly sees thousands of people parade through the streets dressed in historical costumes, carrying sacred statues and playing traditional music. 

Several 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.

A woman takes part in a Good Friday procession in the old Ballaro district of Palermo. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

One of the oldest continuous Good Friday events in Italy 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. 

A Good Friday Via Crucis procession in Manta, near Cuneo. Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

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

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.

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  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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