By their holidays ye shall know them.
Italy has twelve national holidays, eight of them religious. The four secular holidays are New Year’s Day, May Day (like our Labor Day), Republic Day (June 2nd, to commemorate the plebicite in 1946) and Liberation Day on April 25th.
Italians do not have an annual celebration for their reunification in 1861 (the “Proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy” occurred on March 17th), nor do they have a Memorial Day. They do not close shop to celebrate their hard-fought victory in the First World War (our Veterans Day). And, there is no such thing as Columbus Day outside of Genoa.
So, what is Liberation Day? It commemorates the low point in Italy’s tortured participation in the Second World War. It honors one side in what was essentially a civil war between Mussolini’s regime in northern Italy, then under German occupation, and assorted anti-Fascist groups. The date of this holiday is arbitrary – only the city of Torino was liberated on April 25th. Mussolini was assassinated by the Communists on April 28th, the Fascist and German Armies didn’t surrender to the Allies until May 1st.
But it was important for the anti-Fascist coalition to proclaim a new holiday in April to replace a Fascist one. That holiday – the Founding of Rome – was celebrated on April 21st. In fact, the city of Rome has been celebrating this day since its citizens wore togas, and it still lights up the sky with fireworks today. The partisans wanted no part of Roman history, for it smacked of Fascism.
It is a sad commentary on both them and Italians in general that Liberation Day is literally a “partisan” holiday rather than a memorial for all of Italy’s suffering – for the million-plus souls who died in Italy’s many wars, for the 1,500 years of fragmentation until the rebirth of Roman Italy.
Few Italic people today understand the importance of April 21st, how it came to affect us and the very civilization we cherish. So important was it to our ancestors that time was counted from April 21, 753 BC. Before there was BC and AD there was AUC –ab urbs condita (“from the founding of the city”). This year would be 2771 on the Roman calendar.
Even ancient Romans marveled at their rise from an inland city on seven hills to the greatest empire known to man. They considered the event to be sacred. How many ethnic groups today possess an exact date of their fortunate beginning? Jews don’t know the day and year that G-d offered Abraham the “Promised Land,” or when Moses met that G-d on Mt. Sinai. But Italians have preserved their special date across some 28 centuries.
If there were no Rome there would be no Italy and no universal Christianity or Western Civilization, as we know it. To me, April 21st stands alongside October 12th as the dual pillars of the modern world. Yet, celebrating one is considered fascistic, the other racist.
Like Columbus Day, few understand the significance of Rome’s birth. Imagine the Americas opened and colonized by anyone but Europeans. Imagine the world without Rome protecting and adopting Greek civilization and transmitting it to Europe. You only need to see what became of the Greeks when they melted into Middle Eastern culture – as though they never existed. Imagine a small Jewish sect free to travel across the Roman world, then organized and prepared by Roman emperors to inherit that empire and its seat in Rome.
Surely, the eight Catholic holidays of Italy wouldn’t exist if April 21st never happened. Yet, the Italians treat it like just another day. -JLM