Italy Roundtable: What You Need to Know About Saint’s Feast Days in Italy


The Italy Roundtable has a tradition of taking the month of August off – just like the Italians do – so the July topic has, over the years, often had something to do with that. This month, the theme is HOLIDAY.

My initial instinct was to talk about Ferragosto, the national holiday that falls smack dab in the middle of August. But when I started doing research on it, I found a wonderful article by my Roundtable cohort Alexandra about the tradition of the August holiday in Italy (for a July edition of the Roundtable a few years ago, no less), and I realized there was no reason to re-do that. So here’s a bit of a different foray into how Catholic holidays can impact your Italian travels.

Procession for the Festa di Sant'Andrea sul mare in Monasterace || creative commons photo by Marcuscalabresus

Procession for the Festa di Sant’Andrea sul mare in Monasterace || creative commons photo by Marcuscalabresus

For as long as I’ve been writing about traveling in Italy, there’s one question that comes up more frequently than any other: “Is this a good itinerary for my trip?” I’m not a trip planner, and I won’t structure your itinerary for you, which is why (ages ago) I started doling out tips on how to create the right trip for you instead. And one of the steps in that process involves checking the calendar of Italian holidays and festivals against your proposed travel calendar to see if there are any holidays in Italy during your trip that could throw a wrench into your plans.

It’s a useful step. I do it every time I travel. And in Italy, it’s a bit more complicated than you might expect. Because, in addition to the holidays that are celebrated in many parts of the world, important national Italian holidays, and noteworthy festivals, there are also about a half a gajillion saint’s feast days to contend with.

Okay, so I’m exaggerating on the number a little bit. But there are a lot of feast days.

What makes tracking their relationship to your travel plans particularly difficult is that one feast day will be a regular day in one city and a big holiday in another. Unless you’re Catholic, the whole thing can be confusing. Which is why I’m going to give you a very basic overview of saint’s feast days in Italy and how they relate to your travel plans.

I’m not Catholic, so this information is solely about understanding an aspect of Italian culture with which you might be unfamiliar. It doesn’t matter what religion you practice (or don’t) – when you’re in Italy, you’re impacted by Catholicism, so it’s a good idea to understand how it may or may not overlap with your trip.

Festa di San Gennaro in Naples || creative commons photo by Fiore Silvestro Barbato

Festa di San Gennaro in Naples || creative commons photo by Fiore Silvestro Barbato

What are saint’s feast days?

Every day of the liturgical calendar has a saint associated with it, and every saint has a day on the liturgical calendar. There are far more saints than days, of course, so many dates are shared.

If the date of a saint’s death is known, that’s typically the first choice for that saint’s feast day. In many cases, however, the date of death is unknown, which means the church can assign a feast day as they see fit. Sometimes a known death date falls on a day crowded with other saints already, so the church may choose to assign a different day to that saint.

Is there a big banquet?

Nope. The word “feast” here has the somewhat older meaning of a religious celebration rather than a big meal. Although, this being Italy, any day can include what feels like a feast to non-Italians.

What happens on feast days?

That depends a great deal on where you are and what saints are being honored on that day. Every town and city has a patron saint, and on that saint’s feast day that city or town may have a big procession to or from that saint’s church carrying an icon of the saint, and there may be an associated festival around town. Stores may shut down for the occasion. The adjacent town, while recognizing the first saint as a saint, won’t celebrate the date at all because it’s not their patron saint.

Procession for the Festa di San Rocco in Satriano || creative commons photo by Socrate00

Procession for the Festa di San Rocco in Satriano || creative commons photo by Socrate00

You’re familiar with St. Patrick’s Day, no doubt. That’s a day honoring Ireland’s patron saint, so it’s a national holiday in Ireland with important religious significance (and has become a big deal around the world for other reasons). February 14th is Valentine’s Day, right? Well, that’s short for St. Valentine – and the 14th of February is his feast day.

For the most part, however, the patron saints of the various places you’ll visit in Italy may not be names you recognize. But even if your plans aren’t sidetracked by feast day festivities or you’re not Catholic, you might want to check out a local procession just to see what the locals do on the same day every single year.

How do I find out about what feast days happen during my Italy trip?

The internet has made this task infinitely easier than it used to be, and it’s still a bit cumbersome.

This site is all about patron saints and their associated Italian cities, which is great. I just wish the calendar itself were easier to read in its month format. It’s easy to find each date quickly on this site, but this one is just about saints – not their associated destinations – so you’ve got some additional research to do after finding saint names.

If you know of a resource that’s especially good for finding not only the saint’s feast days but the places in Italy for whom they are patron saints, please let me know!

Santa Lucia statue during her feast day procession in Siracusa || creative commons photo by Salvo Cannizzaro

Santa Lucia statue during her feast day procession in Siracusa || creative commons photo by Salvo Cannizzaro

Other Voices at the Italy Roundtable

Check out what my cohorts are talking about this month! Click along with me through to the following links to read each of their posts – and please leave comments, share them with your friends, and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic!

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5 responses to “Italy Roundtable: What You Need to Know About Saint’s Feast Days in Italy”

  1. Greg Speck says:

    Thanks Jessica, great post. Several years ago we stopped to have an early pizza next to the Cattedrale di Sant’Andrea/Duomo di Amalfi. To our surprise, it was feast day. It was amazing, people marching through the streets, bands playing, and fireworks after midnight. I will never forget it and our buona fortuna! On site is visit regularly for information of all types of events in Sicily is I have found this to be very helpful. This year is clued me into the Noto International Film Fest, and an art festival in Cefalu. It is in Italian, but many browsers allow quick translations.

  2. Gloria says:

    Great post Jessica! I think this is one of those things that are quickly changing. Even the “sagre” (sacra – sacred) once were inextricably connected to a Saint. Most of the celebrations and village or town festivals were planned and organized by the local associations in strict collaboration with the local parish groups (usually called “Misericordia”). Over the years, the churches have started to empty out, and the sport associations have started to take over the festivals, usually to finance the soccer tournaments. Many of the traditional sagre have morphed into lay festivals, revolving around typical products or special events. In some cases the religious aspect has disappeared completely. Of course, not everywhere. But it’s happening more and more often. Patron Saints’ celebrations seem to be a bit more resistant to change. Fingers crossed…

  3. Colby Menning says:

    Need to leave a lenghty comment on travel by train to beaches near those beachside attractions some of which are
    Taormina, Sicily
    Paestum 3 Greek temples, and beach near Rome by walking distance to train station think Ladipolis.
    Then there is Vico Esquene on the Circumvesuvia Train line to Sorrento. To heck with curvy AMalfi Coast, give me the train to Herculeum, Pompeii, and Nero’s mistress unearthed Villa.
    Then there is water taxi travel among the Greek Isles.

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