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Why 'il rientro' means so much more in Italy than a new school year

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
Why 'il rientro' means so much more in Italy than a new school year
Rome's streets empty out as residents escape to the beach during the hottest days of summer. (Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP)

With the arrival of 'il rientro', we look at this Italian word which, while it's often translated as merely the start of a new school year or the end of a holiday, has a deeper cultural significance.


Literally translated, il rientro simply means ‘the re-entry’ or ‘the return’ and the word can be used to talk about the end of any holiday period and the return to school and work.

But the arrival of il grande rientro (the ‘great return’) from the beginning of September heralds a palpable shift in the national mood.

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In August, Italy’s towns and cities are largely abandoned by their residents, who flock to the coast, lakes, or mountains to escape the heat. Many smaller shops close up, and if you contact anyone about a work-related or official matter you're likely to get an out of office auto-reply, or be told se ne parla a settembre (let's talk about it in September). You may even struggle to get a doctor’s appointment.

While this can be frustrating to non-Italians who aren’t used to putting life entirely on hold, these long summer holidays are a deeply embedded tradition in Italian life. The mid-August Ferragosto holiday in particular is viewed as sacred, plus there’s the fact that school is out for almost three entire months, from mid-June to mid-September in many parts of the country.

Tutti al mare: During August Italy's cities empty out and the beaches fill up. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

So, as you’ll know if you live in Italy, the return to normality in September is a big deal, and the word rientro takes on a greater sense of importance and occasion in Italian than the closest English translations might suggest.

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Il rientro signals a nationwide change of pace and mood. It’s time to get going again, in every sense, after weeks - if not months - of long family lunches, afternoon naps, and quiet days at the beach.

Schools restart, workplaces reopen or get back to normal capacity, parliament returns, and the intense summer traffic and tourist crowds begin to ease. At this time, most people in the country will be preparing to go back to work, stocking up on school essentials, and - perhaps the task taken most seriously - overhauling their wardrobes for the new season.


Just like the long summer holidays, il rientro is part of the cyclical nature of public life in Italy: a rhythm which may seem entirely normal and unremarkable to a lot of Italians, but which many of Italy’s foreign residents notice and say they quickly came to appreciate, whether they themselves get to take a summer holiday or not.

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Some people find this time of year a little melancholy, particularly when it comes to il controesodo, the mass return of Italian families from their summer holiday destinations around the end of August. This event is tinged with post-holiday sadness - and marked by traffic jams on motorways heading north and towards major cities.

But you might also find there’s a more energetic and optimistic mood in the air. New projects can begin, parents are relieved to send children back to school, and there’s the fun of favourite local restaurants reopening and catch-ups with friends after the holidays.


Some people even see il rientro as a fresh start, almost like another new year.

Still, things tend to gear up slowly in September, as most people take a piano piano approach to riabituarsi agli orari lavorativi (getting reaccustomed to working hours). Late summer or early autumn is a popular time for Italians to organise a gita fuori porta, or weekend trip outside of the city, to help with the gradual adjustment.


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