A day to celebrate!

Editorial Staff
February 24, 2011

In a country with thousands of local tongues, hundreds of traditional cuisines, a handful of political parties, and marked rivalries among its regions but even its neighbouring villages, many retort that the only truly unifying elements on this peninsula are coffee, pasta anad calcio. A recent move by the Italian government, however, says otherwise, and, only this year, Italy will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its unification with an official holiday. March 17 was chosen as Italy's National Unity Day, the same day Vittorio Emanuele II was declared king of Italy by the newly constituted national parliament in 1861.


The weeks-long controversy over whether to celebrate Italian unity with a national holiday was overshadowed (for a few days, at least) by a moving performance at Italy's annual Sanremo music festival by Tuscany's Roberto Benigni. The Oscar winner entered the theatre on a white horse, evoking hero of the Italian Risorgimento, Giuseppe Garibaldi, and spoke of the ties that bind unified Italy. He finished with a beautiful rendition of the Italian national anthem, L'Inno di Mameli. It awakened a strong sense of patriotism in a country often stymied by its own national rivalries and contradictions.


As expatriates, we actively chose to make Italy our home. And despite all of the hardships and difficulties involved in making a life here, we choose to stay. We want to know what you think unites this great country. Is it Roberto Benigni? Art and architecture? Coffee or calcio?


Celebrating national unity means 'promoting what unites us as a nation and what we all fight for as a unified state in the face of the problems and challenges that await us,' said Italian president Giorgio Napolitano, in a letter to the daily La Repubblica in response to the weeks of debate about instituting the national holiday on March 17.


Among those who fiercely lobbied against the idea were exponents of the devolutionist party, Lega Nord, who argued the national holiday would undermine efforts to revive Italy's sluggish economy; Italy's education minister, Mariastella Gelmini, who was concerned about suspending school for a day; and the Italian business association, Confindustria, which worried about lost production.


Nonetheless, Napolitano said, 'I appreciate the decision that was taken. What counts is that there is full and active awareness, at all institutional levels, of the meaning of these celebrations marking this historical anniversary; as well as the necessity to use it as an occasion to seriously reflect on and promote what unites us.'


To make up for the March 17 holiday this year, during which schools, factories and offices will be closed, officials decided that Armed Forces Day on November 4, which is a public holiday marking the end of World War I in Italy, would instead make up for the lost working day.


Florence will welcome the festivities with a series of initiatives. On March 16 and 17, entrance to all state museums and archeological sites will be open, free of charge, until 1am to celebrate the peninsula's rich cultural heritage. On a more patriotic note, the city will create a ‘tricolored path,' along which pedestrians will literally ‘walk the Tricolore' from piazza Beccaria to Borgo la Croce, Borgo degli Albizi and via del Corso to piazza della Repubblica, which will be decorated in the iconic flag's green, white and red.



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