Here's how International Women's Day (La Festa della Donna) became my favorite holiday
Originally published on March 8th, 2017
A year ago today, I woke up in my tiny Sienese apartment absoolutely buzzing; I was about to experience my first International Women’s Day.
I know that it seems strange for a 20-year-old American to celebrate her first International Women’s Day in Italy, of all places. But International Women's Day had never been acknowledged, let alone celebrated, in the States during my upbringing. No school celebrations, no trending hashtags, no special observances.
A few weeks prior to my first IWD, I was sitting in my 6-hour Italian language class as per usual at the Universitá per Stranieri in Siena. Our class activity for the day focused on Italian holidays; we had to identify the holiday and match them to their respective dates.
As we discussed each holiday, one in particular caught my eye on the page of our text book, “La Festa della Donna.” The icon above the holiday pictured a bundle of dainty yellow flowers.
I looked at my group members faces to see if they recognized the holiday—I myself had no idea what it was. The festival of the woman? Must be another holiday about the Virgin Mary or something.
They all instantly knew what the holiday was and when it took place. The confused look on my face soon caught their attention, and I soon felt a small jolt of embarrassment. Clearly they were surprised to see I, the opinionated American, was stumped when it came to International Women's Day. It should be noted that my class was filled with students from all over the world; Japan, Denmark, Brazil, Norway… and the list continues. Only one other person in my class was American.
Some of my group members could speak English, and one of them turned to me in a kind attempt to clear up my confusion. “International Women’s Day…you know, March 8th?”
I'd never heard anyone talk about International Women’s Day back in the States, much less celebrate it.
And what was with the yellow flowers?
They explained to me that in Italy, much of Europe, and in other countries of the world, March 8th is the day in which women are honored and celebrated more so than they would be on any other day. So, it's like Thanksgiving, except you only give thanks to the women in your life?! In Italy, International Women’s Day is typically celebrated by gifting the women in one’s life yellow mimosa flowers. Knowing the paradoxical roles of women in Italian culture—in which the family life heavily relies on the matriarch to function yet the country as a whole struggles with femicide and domestic abuse—I found it compelling that they celebrated such a holiday.
However, I was equally confused as to why we didn’t acknowledge the day back at home. With feminism gaining a powerful momentum across the nation, and female empowerment FINALLY surfacing in mainstream media (throwback to Beyonce featuring the intelligent, female powerhouse Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her smash hit "Flawless") I couldn’t understand why this day was lost on our country. I took to Wikipedia to understand where and how this “international” holiday started—and soon found out, from reading the holiday’s history on the United Nations website, that it started in...The United States?!
Apparently, the earliest organized observance of a Women’s Day was in late February of 1909 in the United States. It wasn’t until 1975 that the UN officially began celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8th, inviting all of its member states to join in honoring women and their fight for equality and justice.
I felt as though by recognizing this holiday personally, I could begin celebrating with the rest of the world and invite my family and friends to do so as well. When March 8th came last year, as I said, I woke up extremely excited to celebrate, and observe others in Siena celebrate as well. I watched—as I practically skipped to class—children and men in the streets handing bright mimosas to the special women in their lives. Bunches of these yellow flowers could be seen being sold at store counters, decorating window displays, and tucked into purses of women on the street.
As I headed into class, I immediately wished my teacher, Lucia, a special “Buona Festa della Donna!” I meant it with every fiber in my being.
I wrote to the women in my life, drafting a special message to my mother back at home, for without her, and my late Nonna Olga, I wouldn’t be half the woman I am today.
After class, I returned home, and to my surprise I found a tiny bundle of toy-like mimosas (the size of my pinky finger) tacked to my bedroom door. When I opened the door to my room, I found that my Italian friends had left a bundle of yellow mimosas on my desk with a note wishing me a 'Happy International Women’s Day.'
Yellow, by the way, is my favorite color.
And now, a year later, as I write this article, sporting red, not making any purchases for the day, and striking from participating in any paid work— oh, wait… that’s right, I don’t even have a job! — I celebrate International Women’s Day with the rest of my nation, who has chosen this very day to continue protesting for Women’s Rights since we participated in the Women’s March on Washington back in January.
Today, March 8th, is finally gaining the recognition it should in my country, inviting all women (and men) in celebrating and honoring the women who make this nation as resilient as it is.
OH! On a fun side note, if you are a woman currently reading this in Italy, head over to the nearest museum because today, ladies get in for free!
Buona Festa delle Donne!