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ITALIAN TRADITIONS

Why does Italy celebrate Liberation Day on April 25th?

It's a public holiday in Italy, but what exactly are we celebrating? Here's a quick look at the history.

Why does Italy celebrate Liberation Day on April 25th?
The Italian Air Force aerobatic unit Frecce Tricolori (Tricolor Arrows) perform on April 25 over Rome. 2022 marks the 76th anniversary of Liberation Day, which marks the fall of Nazi occupation in 1945. (Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP)

Italy celebrates Liberation Day on April 25th, known in Italian as Il Giorno della Liberazione (Liberation Day), or La Festa della Resistenza (Celebration of the Resistance).

The date has been a public holiday in Italy since 1946 and it marks the end of the Italian Civil War and the end of the Nazi occupation.

Why today?

Not all of Italy was liberated on April 25th, 1945. So here’s the short version of what happened.

The first uprising took place in Bologna, which was liberated on April 21st, followed by Genoa on the 23rd.

The 25th came to be such a notable date because it was the day that the industrial northern cities of Milan and Turin were liberated. 

American forces arrived on May 1st, and the occupying German forces officially surrendered the next day.

What was the resistance movement?

Italy’s partisan resistance movement had been going since the start of the war.

It was made up of many different groups, including a wide range of political parties – the Italian Communist Party, the Italian Socialist Party, the Christian Democrats, the Labour Democratic Party and the Italian Liberal Party), which together made up the National Liberation Committee of Upper Italy (CLNAI).

READ ALSO:

The CLNAI first called for an uprising on April 19th.

On the morning of the 25th, a general strike was announced by partisan Sandro Pertini, who went on to become President of the Republic.

Factories were occupied, including the one where the Corriere della Sera newspaper, which had been connected to the fascist regime, was printed. The partisans used that factory to print news of the victory.

This history continues to heavily influence Italian politics and society today.

Foreigners learning about Italian politics are often surprised by the relatively large number of people, including young people, who strongly identify with either communist or fascist politics in Italy.

A demonstrator wears a t-shirt procaliming “partisans forever” on Liberation Day 2015. Photo: AFP

What happened after the Liberation?

After April 25th, all fascist leaders were sentenced to death.

Benito Mussolini was shot three days later, after he tried to flee north to Switzerland. The Americans arrived in the city on May 1st and German forces eventually officially surrendered on May 2nd.

The Liberation was a major turning point in Italy’s history, as it led to a referendum on June 2nd which resulted in the end of the monarchy and the creation of the Italian Republic.

READ ALSO: On the trail of the Italian Resistance in Milan

The Constitution of Italy was drawn up in 1947.

April 25th was designated a national holiday in 1949 by Alcide De Gasperi, the last Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Italy.

How does Italy mark the day?

Apart from having the day off, this is a day when Italians make their political views clear.

Politicians give speeches each year to emphasise the importance of remembering the resistance movement, and pay tribute at Rome’s Altare della Patria, the national monument to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of a unified Italy.

There are usually numerous official ceremonies across the country, including visits to the tombs of partisan soldiers.

President Sergio Mattarella usually makes an annual visit to the Ardeatine Caves mausoleum, where 335 Romans were killed by Nazis in 1944.

Most years, Italian cities hold marches and parades, and political rallies would usually take place in Rome and Milan.

You’ll hear the song ‘Bella Ciao’ at most of these events. It became known as the anthem of the Italian resistance movement and today reminds listeners of the sacrifices made by those fighters.

Many shops and services including restaurants, post offices and public transport are usually closed on this date.

Most years, it’s a good day to visit a museum. 

A version of this article was originally published in 2016.

Member comments

  1. I’m from New York City but Rome is my favorite city. I’m sorry that you omitted the invasion in Anzio and the cemetery between Anzio and Nettuno dedicated to the soldiers who lost their lives from the African campaign and the Anzio campaign. Although the Anzio landing was almost a complete disaster, they still made it to Rome and the liberation there.

  2. Yes, the end of World War II but the celebration is about the end of 20 years of dictatorship under the Fascist regime, and the end of the suffering brought about by World War II . The end of 20 years of Italy suffering under a Fascist dictatorship that had prevented the Italians from having free elections.

  3. Unfortunately, there are a large number of pro-Fascist Italians still on the loose. And they vote. What is to be done?

  4. The partisans did not begin fighting until after September 8, 1943. Before that, there were groups of anti-Fascists such as Giustizia e Libertà based in Turin who opposed the Fascist regime, but only after the Nazis steamrolled into north Italy did they and other interests begin the fight.

  5. In Australia April 25th is Anzac Day – a public holiday to commemorate all those who who served and died in wars. Ironically, it has always been associated with the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 – a tragically doomed operation where thousands of young men lost their lives.

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CHRISTMAS

Ten Christmas nativity scenes you’ll only see in Italy

Creative nativity scenes appear in homes, churches and public buildings across Italy in December, each one a little different. How many of these have you seen?

Handmade nativity figures for sale on Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples, often called 'Christmas Alley'.
Handmade nativity figures for sale on Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples, often called 'Christmas Alley'.. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

1. The world’s largest

Let’s start with the world’s largest nativity scene, in Cinque Terre. Each year, the picturesque town of Manarola in the Liguria tourist spot is illuminated with over 15,000 lights – a tradition which began back in 1961 with a single cross.

The nativity scene today features than 150 statues illuminated using 8km of electrical cable.

IN PHOTOS: Magical nativity scene lights up Italy’s Cinque Terre coast

The Manarola nativity scene in Italy’s Cinque Terre. Photo: Marco Bertorello / AFP

2. The Vatican’s version

You might expect the scene set up in Piazza San Pietro to be the most traditional of all, but in recent years it has held surprises.

The Vatican’s nativity also now includes a QR code that takes visitors to a video about the Christmas story. There’s even a special Wifi hotspot so visitors don’t have to use up their data.

Some things never change, though: as per tradition, the baby Jesus will be added to the scene by the pope himself on Christmas Eve.

Pope Francis in front of a classic nativity scene in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican in 2013. Photo: Filippo MONTEFORTE/AFP

3. Neapolitan style

No one does nativities quite like Naples. Head to the city’s “Christmas Alley”, Via San Gregorio Armeno, for a glimpse into the workshops that turn out many of the crib figures displayed all over Italy.

Among the usual characters, look out for fishmongers, butchers, pizza makers and other figures that have made their way into Neapolitan Christmas tradition – not to mention the pop stars, footballers politicians and other public figures that craftsmen slip in there too.

IN PICTURES: A weird and wonderful Christmas in Naples

A winged Diego Maradona figurine on Via San Gregorio Armeno, Naples. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

4. Living nativities

You might do a double take when you first see one of Italy’s presepi viventi – they are made up of real people in character. And rather than being a small display, these theatrical productions are often staged across an entire town centre.

There are several living nativities across the country, but perhaps the most famous one is found in the southern Italian city of Matera, known for its ancient cave houses and magical landscape. Walking through a 5km route through the sassi, or old town, visitors pass shepherds and artisans who will direct them to the actual crib.

5. A used-car nativity

Hey, why not. This one can be seen at Rome’s annual 100 Presepi exhibition, displaying nativities of all materials and sizes from around the world.

6. An edible version

You definitely shouldn’t tuck into the nativity scene in Olmedo, Sardinia – but you could. The elaborate figures on display at the ‘presepe di pane‘ in the church of Nostra Signore di Talia are made entirely of bread. 

7. On the water

The “floating nativities” of port town Cesenatico, Emilia-Romagna, are the only ones of their kind in the world. The boats display around 50 life-size statues throughout December, portraying a scene typical of the fishing village. Each year a new statue is added, and at night, lights bring the whole scene to life.

A floating nativity scene in Cesenatico. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

8. …and under it

Head to Laveno-Mombello on Lombardy’s Lago Maggiore for a look at a sunken nativity scene. The sight of the holy family – plus some seashells and palm trees – submerged in the waters of the lake makes for a surprising, but undeniably scenic, view.

9. Made of sand

In Jesolo near Venice, a nativity scene made entirely of sand – some 1,500 tonnes of it – is created each year with a different theme. For 2021’s edition, the sand sculpture is dedicated to Italy’s health workers and their efforts during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Photo: christopher_brown/Flickr

10. Made of ice

Several (presumably colder) Italian towns instead sculpt their nativity scenes from ice. Massa Martana, a village in the province of Perugia, is one place where you can see life-sized figures carved from huge blocks of ice and dramatically illuminated.