The hot summer months are an important holiday time in Italy. Most Italians leave the cities for the hillsides and beaches in August. Many stores and factories close down in August. Towns and cities host summer fairs, or sagre. Throughout Italy there are sagre for every type of food imaginable. There are pear and wine sagre, frog sagre, porcini (wild mushroom) sagre, spaghetti sagre and gelato sagre. The villagers serve large quantities of the featured food and plates of pasta. When the eating is done, the dancing begins. It goes on late into the night and all generations take to the dance floor.
The peak of the summer season is Ferragosto. This is August 15, the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. It is an important religious holiday. Most stores and offices are closed for the day.

The two other significant Italian religious holidays are Christmas and Easter. Each year more Italians adopt the Northern European way of celebrating Christmas. They decorate trees and exchange gifts on December 25. Others maintain the older tradition of exchanging gifts on January 6, the Feast of Epiphany. On this day children are told of an old woman named Befana who flies through the sky on a broom looking for the newborn Christ Child. On her search she drops in at every home. She leaves candies and toys for good children. Naughty children get a lump of coal.

Did you know?

For New Year's celebrations Italians like to eat lentils. They believe lentils bring good luck if eaten at the beginning of the year.

Another tradition of the Christmas season is the building of the presepio, or manger scene in churches and homes. These scenes are often much more elaborate than the simple scene of the Holy Family in a stable. Whole villages are recreated, complete with miniature people and animals, some with moving parts.

Easter is celebrated in the spring with church services and a feast of lamb, followed by special cakes and chocolate eggs.

January 1 New Year's Day
January 6 Epiphany
March or April Easter Monday
April 25 Liberation Day
May 1 Labour Day
August 15 Assumption Day
November 1 All Saints' Day
December 8 Immaculate Conception
December 25 Christmas
December 26 St. Stephen's Day