Italy Finally Gets Their Equivalent to our Fourth of July Holiday: Unification Day! But Are They Really United?
Hold on now. When we Italian-Americans were all busy with our St. Patrick's Day celebrations (with us, it was shepherd's pie, Irish soda bread and some Harp lager), we overlooked a fairly new holiday for Italians... In 2011, in honor of the 150th Anniversary of Italy's Unification (and at long last) the Italian government approved a national holiday to celebrate the joining of the regions and kingdoms of Italy into one Nation. Italy became a nation on March 17, 1861, most regions and the Kingdom of Two Sicilies were united under king Victor Emmanuel II (formerly king of Sardinia). Giuseppe Garibaldi overthrew the Kingdom of Naples to get the ball rolling toward one, united Italy.
The odd thing is, that before the creation of Giorno Unificazione (Unification Day), not many Italians gave much thought to March 17th. It was just a day like any other. Perhaps the reason is because there isn't much national identity in Italy. Look at the vintage cartoon above... That's Garibaldi trying to stuff Victor Emmanuel's foot into the boot of Italy--a tight fit indeed for the many varied cultures living in Italy at the time.
One's regional identity matters more to most Italians. They are Sicilian or Venetian or Calabrese or Tuscan before they are "Italian". One might even argue that the Euro zone has watered down the Italian identity even further... no more pride-inspiring Lire notes with the likenesses of Marco Polo, Raphaello, Marconi or Verdi... Euro notes are homogenized. And today everyone carries the same Euro-style passport as every other Euro country.
There are reasons for this regional independence. Trentino-Alto Adige (originally South Tyrol) was taken from Mother Austria and given to Italy, even though most who live there there speak German, and eat schnitzel and might drink beer more than wine. People in Friuli-Venezia Giulia have their ethnic roots in Slovenian, while people in the north-west regions, like Piedmont have cultural similarities to the French. In Sicily, the diet and architecture is more Arab and Moorish than Italian, and the people of Puglia still show their Greek influences.
Then there are the languages. Italy doesn't speak one national language. There are over 200 recognized dialects spoken in Italy besides Italian. In truth, there are really thousands. (Read about them HERE.) You might be on a train and hear announcements in Italian and one or two local dialects. Someone from Rome might not understand a Calabrese speaking in their native tongue. Even my Napolitano mother couldn't understand when my father spoke his Molfetese dialect. No wonder they brought us up speaking only English.
Today, they are starting to care, if only because it is a guaranteed day off--with pay. In fact, the only way the government could get the holiday's approval was to take away another holiday (Armed Forces/Liberation Day on November 4) to make way for the new one. They wouldn't give the workers yet another day off, so it all balanced out in the end.
So, if you have any national pride in one Italy, give a toast for Unification Day... and all stand for the Italian National Anthem in the video...