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January in Italy: Holidays, Festivals, and Other Events

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.

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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.

New Year’s Day dive from Ponte Cavour, Rome

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.

Assisi also has a lovely, more rural procession at its church of Sant’Antonio Abate on this day.

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.

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