Every year on June 24th, Italy celebrates the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist
In Christianity, it is believed that Jesus was a follower of John and that John baptized Jesus in the river Jordan. Italy has many such religious holidays celebrating saints and depending on location, it can be a full celebration with parades, fireworks and processions or it may be more subdued.
By far, the biggest cities that celebrate the feast day of St. John in Italy include Florence, Genoa and Turin, as St. John is their patron saint. If you’re not familiar with what a patron saint is, they are basically considered to be cities protectors and intercede on the cities’ wellbeing and behalf with God. Just about every small town in Italy has a patron saint, which is celebrated at various times during the year, though most are during the summer months. It’s a comfort for many to feel that their own city or town is under divine protection. Many businesses are closed on this day, as well as most public offices. A Mass, fireworks, parade, processions and other traditional festivities take place in these cities and families gather to celebrate their saint. Fireworks are displayed over the Arno River in Florence, so if you find yourself there during this time of year, you will be in for a treat.
In Italy, the relationship between Godfather and Godchild is very strong. When someone baptizes a baby, they always refer to that relationship as having “Il San Gianni” with them, meaning that like the relationship between St. John and Jesus, they now have an unbreakable bond. Many Godfathers and Godchildren celebrate this day with small tokens of gifts or simply treating each other to an espresso or gelato.
All of the “Giovanni,” “Giovanna” and names deriving from these celebrate their onomastico on this day. An onomastico is a celebration of one’s “name day.” Quite popular in Italy, it is similar in celebration to one’s birthday, particularly for names such as Giovanni, Giuseppe and Francesco/a. I recall growing up celebrating my dad’s onomastico on June 24th and it would always include a cake with a small family gathering. So if you know a Giovanni/a, wish them “auguri di felice onomastico” – or happy name day! They might wonder what that means, so you will be able to tell them that you’re celebrating their name day, as is tradition in Italy!
Francesca Montillo is a native Italian currently living in Boston and the founder of Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures, which provides small group culinary adventures to Italy, as well as private trip planning and organizing. She is also a culinary instructor in the Boston area. She maintains strong ties to her native land and is very excited to be able to bring folks to Italy on her adventures.
You can learn more about her at www.thelazyitalian.com