Italians celebrate the Christmas season through January 6, the Epiphany. So January begins with much fanfare, including New Years Day and Epiphany events as well as the start of the winter sales season.
January in Italy: Holidays, Festivals, and Other Events
January 1 – New Year’s Day
New Year’s Day is a national holiday in Italy. Most shops, museums, restaurants, and other services will be closed so that everyone can recover from New Year’s Eve Festivities. In Rome, for example, it’s typical to spend New Year’s Day taking a relaxing stroll with the family in the Villa Borghese.
While most take the cue to relax on January 1, there are exceptions. In Venice, some bathers take a morning dip in the chilly waters of the Lido. Meanwhile, a few daredevil Romans take a New Year’s Day dive off the Ponte Cavour into the frigid and murky water of the Tiber River.
January 6 – Epiphany and Befana
A national holiday, Epiphany is officially the 12th day of Christmas and one on which Italian children celebrate the arrival of La Befana, a good witch. Venetians celebrate the day with a costumed regatta of Befane on the lagoon.
While secular activities abound on this day, including the beginning of the winter sales (see below), there are indeed religious events to mark the arrival of the Three Kings. Many churches and communities throughout Italy perform living nativities for Epiphany. And presepi, those diorama-style nativity scenes common in every church, are still on display on January 6.
In Vatican City, prior to a special Epiphany mass by the Pope in Saint Peter’s, a procession of hundreds of people dressed in medieval costumes walk along the Via delle Consolazioni, the wide avenue leading up to the Vatican, carrying symbolic gifts for the pontiff.
Florence also holds a costumed parade, which goes from Palazzo Pitti to Piazza della Sigoria and then finishes at the Duomo.
January 17 – Saint Anthony’s Day (Festa di San Antonio Abate)
The Feast Day of Saint Anthony Abbott celebrates the patron saint of butchers, domestic animals, basketmakers, and gravediggers. In Rome, for example, this feast day is celebrated at the church of Sant’Antonio Abate on the Esquiline Hill and the traditional “Blessing of the Beasts” that accompanies this day takes place in the nearby Piazza Sant’Eusebio.
In the Assisi hamlet of Santa Maria degli Angeli, the Feast Day of Sant’Antonio Abate is known as the Piatto di Sant’Antonio and includes a large procession of locals in 19th century period costumes and a parade of horses and other domesticated animals.
Elsewhere in Italy, particularly in the south, Sant’Antonio Abate is celebrated with bonfires, owing to the saint’s association with the Fuoco di Sant’Antonio, Saint Anthony’s fire, another name for the disease of Shingles.
Saldi – Winter Sales
If you love to shop, January is a great time to be in Italy. The much-anticipated winter sales (saldi) usually begin around the time of the Epiphany/Befana (January 5 or 6) and last until the end of February — or until shoppers and shop owners have cleared out last season’s goods.
During the first week of sales, items will be immediately discounted from between 30 to 50 percent off the original price, with discounts getting deeper with each passing week so as to move the old merchandise and get ready for the new. Just about every place with something to sell, from small boutiques to designer outlets, gets in on the saldi bandwagon in order to capture shoppers’ attention.
Quick Guide to Dates in January: Anniversaries, Events, Births, and Deaths
- New Year’s Day, a public holiday
- Julian Calendar comes into effect (45 BC); Last gladiator competition in Rome (404)
- Birth of Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449)
- Italy issues its first postage stamp (1851)
- Euro becomes the official currency (2002)
- Compulsory military service in Italy ends (2005)
- The Roman legions in Germania Superior refuse to swear loyalty to Galba, prompting the Year of Four Emperors (69)
- Death of Pontormo (1557)
- Death of Guccio Gucci (1953), founder of Gucci
- Birth of Cicero (106 BC)
- Birth of director Sergio Leone (1929)
- Death of Pino Daniele, singer and son of Naples (2015)
- Birth of Umberto Eco (1932)
- Death of photographer Tina Modotti (1942)
- Death of Giotto (1337)
- Birth of painter Elisabetta Sirani (1638)
- Death of Galileo (1642)
- Death of violinist Arcangelo Corelli (1713)
- Death of Vittorio Emanuele II, First King of united Italy. Replaced by Umberto I (1878)
- Death of painter Domenico Ghirlandaio (1494)
- Birth of painter Parmigianino (1503)
- A 6.7 magnitude earthquake hits the town of Avezzano, Abruzzo, killing more than 30,000 (1915)
- Costa Concordia cruise ship sinks off the Tuscan island of Giglio, killing 32 (2012)
- Birth of painter Giovanni Segantini (1858)
- ANSA news agency founded (1945)
- Beginning of the Roman Empire (27 BC)
- Death of Arturo Toscanini (1957)
- Feast Day of Sant’Antonio Abate
- Division of the Roman Empire into Eastern and Western Empires, the latter of which would be headquartered in Milan (Mediolanum), Ravenna, and Rome for nearly a century (395)
- The Euphronios Krater is put on display in the Villa Giulia in Rome after it was returned to Italy by MOMA (2008). In 2015, the vase went on display at the Museo Nazionale Cerite in Cerveteri, Lazio, near where it was originally unearthed.
- Birth of Federico Fellini (1920)
- Feast Day of Saint Agnes of Rome
- Birth of Antonio Gramsci (1891)
- Death of Caligula (41)
- Birth of Hadrian (76)
- Birth of Amedeo Modigliani (1920)
- Feast Day of the Conversion of Saint Paul
- Council of Trent held in Trento (1564)
- Dante Alighieri is exiled from Florence (1302)
- Death of Giuseppe Verdi (1901)
- International Holocaust Remembrance Day
- Fiera di Sant’Orso in Aosta