There are a total of 11 national public holidays a year in Italy – and that’s not including feast days for local patron saints.
So it seems bizarre that Good Friday would be excluded from the list, especially when it’s a day off even in non-Catholic countries including the UK, Germany and Sweden.
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The key word here is ‘celebrate’. You don’t get a day off because it’s not a celebration: instead it’s a day of mourning, marking the day that Christians believe Jesus died on the cross.
It’s known as Venerdì Santo in Italy, or Holy Friday. The country’s Catholic faithful spend it in sombre mood, with many churches cloaking statues in black, purple or dark red covers.
The day is part of Holy Week, which starts the Sunday before Easter Sunday. It’s preceded by Giovedì Santo, Maundy Thursday, which sees the Pope wash the feet of others, just as Jesus did for his disciples.
But Good Friday is a much quieter affair, with no masses held – and the lack of obligation to attend mass is though to be the main reason this was not made a public holiday.
Worshipers attend the Via Crucis torchlight procession at Rome’s ancient Colosseum. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP
But, though they might not be called celebrations, there is certainly a lot of pomp and ceremony for a day not classed as a national holiday.
The most famous event is probably the Via Crucis, in Rome. Participants follow as a cross is carried around all 14 Stations of the Cross, saying a prayer at each one. The event culminates in lighting a cross made of candles, which is then carried to the ancient Colosseum.
Some of the biggest processions and other events are held in Sicily, which commonly sees thousands of people parade through the streets dressed in historical costumes, carrying sacred statues and playing traditional music.
Sicilian towns have their own ways of marking the day, many of them heavily influenced by Spanish customs from the days when the island was under Spain’s rule.
One of the oldest continuous Good Friday events in Italy overall is the Processione del Cristo Morto – the procession of the dead Christ – in Chieti, Abruzzo.
During this spectacle, which dates back to the ninth century, onlookers get the opportunity to hear 100 violins play Miserere by the 18th-century composer and choir master Saverio Selecchy, a native of the town.
Even though businesses are open, you’ll find that not everything is running on Good Friday. Schools, for example close their doors until the Tuesday or Wednesday after Easter Monday.
Easter Monday, by the way, also known as Pasquetta, or ‘little Easter’, is a national holiday and a day off work for most. The liturgy has passed, the grief subsided, and so the celebrations resume.
The main reason is that mass is not held on Good Friday. Religious holidays were granted to allow for people to attend mass on days of ‘holy obligation’. Roman catholics are required to go to mass on these days, such as Christmas day, the Assumption, the Epiphany and All Saints. Good Friday is not a holy day of obligation, hence a holiday was never granted.