The Thirteenth (or La tredicesima)

Italy’s Christmas “gift” to its workers

Helen Farrell
December 3, 2015

Today I received “the thirteenth”.

 

It’s a much awaited event for Italians, a highlight in the run up to Christmas that marks the start of Christmas shopping, a day when your cash flow suddenly improves and you book next year’s holidays, purchase Santa Maria Novella pharmacy smellies for your mother in law and extra-special furry dice for your husband’s new vehicle. Or perhaps just pay your car insurance.

 

La tredicesima does not exist in the United Kingdom or the United States, where Christmas bonuses are based on performance as opposed to being mandated by the law. Brazilians enjoy a state-regulated aguinaldo, which is paid prior to December 20 every year. The Philippines and Singapore both apply a thirteenth salary, as too do Germany and Austria with their Weihnachtsgeld (“Christmas money”).

 

Appearing in the December pay packets of employees with permanent and fixed-term contracts in Italy, ‘the thirteenth’ was introduced in 1937 during the Fascist regime as a Christmas gift to factory workers. While a festive bonus previously existed, some believe that the move to make extra take-home pay a legal mandate was for propaganda purposes, while others put it down to the stato sociale (welfare state) that was widespread in the 1930s. In 1946, la tredicesima was extended to workers at all levels and later to all employees thanks to Italian Presidential Decree, July 28, 1960, no. 1070.

 

There’s also the fourteenth salary, too. La quattordicesima is common among business managers and executives, paid in June, just in time to fund the ubiquitous beach umbrella and deckchair.

 

This morning, upon receiving the news of this thirteenth instalment in my busta paga, I have to admit that I failed to react. While I will not of course deny that an extra month’s wages are welcome ahead of the most expensive time of the year, in modern society it could be interpreted as a demonstration of mistrust by the government towards the populace to manage their annual remuneration.

 

It’s a cultural curiosity. There are twelve days of Christmas in England and there are thirteen (or fourteen) salaries in Italy. Surely whatever spreads goodwill and cheer can only be a good thing.

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