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Why do Milan residents get a day off on December 7th?

Giampietro Vianello
Giampietro Vianello - [email protected]
Why do Milan residents get a day off on December 7th?
Milan residents commemorate their patron saint, St Ambrose, on December 7th. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

If you live in Milan, you might get an extra day off work on December 7th - and the opportunity for a four-day weekend.

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December 7th is a public holiday in Milan in honour of the city's beloved patron saint, St Ambrose. 

The annual Festa di Sant’Ambrogio, which falls on a Thursday this year, is an an important date in the northern metropolis. As well as being an opportunity to catch up with family and friends, it unofficially marks the start of the festive season.

And this year it brings the opportunity for a bumper four-day weekend, as Friday, December 8th, is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception - a national public holiday.

READ ALSO: How to make the most of Italy's public holidays in 2024

As in the case of other local public holidays across Italy (Saints Peter and Paul in Rome, St Mark in Venice, St Orontius in Lecce, etc.), children will be home from school and most employees will be given the day off – by law, those who are asked to work on the day must be paid above their regular hourly rate. 

So why do locals celebrate Saint Ambrose, who lived and died in the northern city in the second half of the 4th century AD?

Ambrose served as Bishop of Milan from 374 AD to 397 AD, but it could be argued that his influence on the city went far beyond that of an ordinary clergyman. 

Chritsmas tree in MIlan's Piazza Duomo

Milan’s traditional Christmas light displays will be switched on on December 7th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

Ambrose was known for the eloquence of his public speeches, his exceptional diplomacy when handling political matters, and, above all, his efforts to promote social justice in the city as he regularly urged Milan’s richest citizens to care and provide for the poor. 

Ambrose’s commitment to the betterment of Milanese society is ultimately why he is cherished by thousands of residents to this day.

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How is the day celebrated?

Some residents will head to the Basilica of St Ambrose, the church named after the saint, for morning mass, with the service being usually held by Milan’s Bishop himself.

After mass, families get together to celebrate in the best way known to Italians: with a big lunch, featuring local delicacies including Milanese-style risotto, mondeghili (meatballs) and rostin negàa (veal cutlets).

The meal usually ends with people enjoying their first seasonal taste of panettone (with many more sampling sessions to follow in the weeks after) or eating some home-made ambrosiani: traditional shortbread biscuits made precisely to celebrate Milan’s patron saint.

Christmas market in Milan

One of the best things to do in Milan on December 7th is to visit one of the city’s traditional Christmas markets. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

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After the meal. people tend to go out and enjoy some of the many things to do in the city on the day. 

Firstly, locals will have a chance to visit the Oh Bej! Oh Bej! Market, a fair thought to date back to the early 1500s.

READ ALSO: Italy's Christmas markets: Where and when to visit in 2023

The market’s stalls, which open to the public exactly on December 7th, will be set up in front of Milan’s iconic Sforza Castle, selling anything from hand-crafted Christmas decorations and gadgets to local delicacies.

Others might instead head to Piazza Duomo in central Milan to attend the Christmas lights switch-on event, which this year will be at 5pm.

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