Here's how International Women's (Festa della Donna) is celebrated in Italy
A year ago today, on March 8th, I woke up in my single dorm room in Siena, excited to experience my first International Women’s Day. I acknowledge that it is indeed strange, a young, American woman celebrating the first International Women’s Day in her 20 years of existence… in Italy.
A few weeks prior, during my rigorous 8 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. Italian language class, we were completing a class activity learning about Italian holidays. The goal of the exercise was to learn about holidays celebrated in Italy, and match them to their respective dates. I was thrilled at this activity, considering I am a total nerd and lept onto any opportunity to learn more about Italian culture. Yet, as we were discussing 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.
As we had to match the date to the holiday, the eyes of my group members quickly flickered in understanding, they knew instantly what the holiday was and when it occurred. My confused look soon caught their attention, and I felt a small jolt of embarrassment rush through my face. Clearly they were surprised to see I was stumped. 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 girl in my class and I were American.
Some of my group members could speak English, so one of them turned to me in a kind attempt to clear up my confusion. “International Women’s Day… March 8th?” I couldn’t believe how clueless I was, but in my defense, I had never heard of International Women’s Day, nor seen it celebrated back in the States. Not to mention my confusion around the yellow flowers as well.
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 still 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 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 American culture. I took to Wikipedia to understand where and how this “international” holiday started, and was soon reading about the holiday’s history on the United Nations website.
Apparently, the earliest organized observance of a Women’s Day was in late February of 1909 in-- ding,ding,ding, you guessed it!-- the United States. It wasn’t until 1975 that the UN began officially 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 skipped to class children and men in the streets giving the 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. Although this was customary for the locals around me, I was overjoyed at what I saw. 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.
And 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 bundle of tiny, fake mimosas the size of my pinky finger tacked to my bedroom door, decorating the peep-hole. 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. They had listened to my excitement all week, as I boasted about how special the day would be.
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!