Today, December 8th, is a “giorno rosso” or “red day.”
It means today is a holiday.
While it has some pretty ancient roots, the expression, “red letter day” in modern times comes from the style of calendars where Monday-Saturday the dates are printed in black ink while Sundays and holidays are printed in red ink.
This morning I awoke to four thunderous fireworks lit several seconds apart at precisely 5am. These served as a wake-up call to rouse the citizens of Belpasso out of their warm beds that they might arrive on time to the 5:30am mass at the town’s main cathedral (known in Italian as the “duomo“).
Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
Most everyone has the day off today and since this “holy-day” happened to conveniently land on a Tuesday this year, many also took yesterday off as well.
Despite the ridiculous hour and crisp air, I managed to get myself out of bed and to the church about a half hour after the service had started. By the time I arrived there was standing room only.
About 40 minutes later, a throng of sleepy Belpassesi shuffled their way out of the church as a few more fireworks were lit and the church bells were vivaciously rung, as if to wake everyone else in town who hadn’t risen to come to the service… this might be a form of courtesy on almost any other weekday of the year but since today happens to be a “giorno rosso” and most everyone does not have school or work today, I am left to wonder what was going through the minds of those who were abruptly awoken by the sound of the clanging bells so early on a holiday morning.
One strange thing about living in a foreign culture is how I need to be told what days are holidays while the “giorni rossi” I grew up celebrating are not recognized here (I do subscribe to an “Italian holidays” calendar so they automatically appear on my computer but if I am not paying attention or forget, I won’t know it’s a “giorno rosso” until I walk out my door and see all the businesses are closed!).
Contrarily, Thanksgiving, felt a lot less like a holiday this year since everything here was open. For all those around me, it was just another weekday. Kids were in school, stores were open during their normal business hours and I spent the better part of the afternoon at the post office paying bills, all the while thinking how everyone should be off from work and home with their families!
I am a bit sad to think the giorni rossi I grew up with will likely, little by little, lose some of that “set-apartness” that makes them different, more special, than all the other days of the year.
While the holidays here in Italy are not likely to ever be for me what they are to those who have grown up in this culture, I do hope at least a few of them will gradually become days I can look forward to and sincerely celebrate alongside my Sicilian friends and neighbors.