Celebrating holidays in Italy is a little bit different than in the US. The main difference is that there is no strong marketing push for holidays; people just celebrate them.
One holiday that is celebrated a bit more intently in Italy as compared to America is actually the birthday. I would have never guessed, especially because of the importance of religion in the Italian culture. And, of course, holidays like Easter are important to the Italian people as well as patron saint days for each town or city. So, birthdays here are a lot more celebrated than I initially assumed.
Birthdays in Italy are generally celebrated for every member of the family. They are not just a “kid thing” as they sometimes are in the United States. All other family members also stop what they would otherwise do that day to participate, often even extended family. Birthday celebrations typically include food, wine and/or beer, and lots of people. Birthdays can vary depending on whose birthday it is. During my time abroad, I have so far experienced three different birthday celebrations. Each were slightly different, but all were important to the family of the birthday people as well as to the birthday people.
The first birthday event that I experienced in Italy was for Enzo, my “host dad”. I’m not sure how old he is, but he’s relatively old, and has definitely been in the “senior citizen” category for a while. For his birthday, the immediate extended family joined us for dinner and special birthday desserts. Here, people do the candle on the cake thing, but the cake is different. Sometimes, it is actually a cake, but smaller and firmer as a more condensed single layer. If not a cake, then a platter of various dessert foods with candles on top. The household prepared the whole day for his birthday dinner. My roommate and I made a card with Enzo’s grandkids, and we all drew on it. The kids had a lot of fun trying to hide it from Enzo until dinner. I think what was most striking about birthdays to me was the everybody factor; everyone was a part of the event.
The next birthday I experienced was for “Nonna”, the old matriarch of the family. The entire extended family got together (including THEIR study abroad students) and we had a huge lunch at my host mom’s brother’s house. It was an all-day affair; nobody did anything else the entire day. It was a several course meal with dessert and fruit to follow. There was also a good amount of homemade red table wine involved.
I also got to experience a kids birthday party. My host parents’ grandson, Simone, turned eight years old this semester. I was a little surprised that beer was served at his party. Even though the kids didn’t drink it and it was just for parents, older friends, and older family members, it was still kind of strange to see beer at a kid’s birthday party. This is apparently common, and wasn’t a big deal. Something different about a child’s birthday in Italy as compared to America was that the birthday boy didn’t receive gifts from various people or family members. Instead, he received one gift to unwrap, and that was his birthday present.
Birthdays here are nice, I’d say. They give people excuses to drop everything in their schedule and just get together and relax. I think this is an idea that I will miss a little when I go back to America. I think celebrating people is so important.
Hayley is a current student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania studying at Sant’Anna Institute (SA) in Italy during the Spring 2016 term.