La Unità di Italia

When waking Thursday morning and remembering the date, I can imagine that thoughts of green filled one’s mind. Ask anyone you know about March 17th and you can expect a smile widening at its announcement of Saint Patrick’s Day. A day for wearing green, eating corned beef and cabbage and Irish soda bread, and enjoying Guinness, the celebration of Ireland’s Patron Saint is highly anticipated for the Irish community.

One might wonder why I am even writing about Saint Patrick’s Day when I am living in country with no Irish roots. As one can imagine, Saint Patrick’s Day does not have a great following in the nation shaped like boot because of its very limited Irish population. However, despite Italians disassociation with shamrocks and green beer, the date has its own significance to the peninsula: on 17 March 1861, Italy became a unified country.

This year is a particularly exciting time to be in the Mediterranean nation for its unification because it is the 150th anniversary. After having confused the phrase buon anniversario as “happy birthday,” my housemate inquired to our host mother as to whether Italy was celebrating its birthday or its anniversary. According to Flavia, March 17th can technically be considered both, but it is mostly celebrated as the official date for the country’s unity. Because of its power in the Holy Roman Empire, Italy is rich in world history. Yet, because it was only recognized as an official nation cento cinquanta anni fa (150 years ago), the country is relatively young. Many historians like to say that the United States is a young country, but considering that in 1861 Italy was just becoming unified and America was 85 years old and on the brink of Civil War, one begins to question how exactly to define young.

To celebrate il Risorgimento (the term for the 150th anniversary), Italy went all out to celebrate. One of the biggest celebrations in the nation took place Wednesday night in central Florence. Beginning at seven o’clock in the evening, many of the Renaissance renowned museums had free admission until one o’clock in the morning. In the city’s various piazzas, Italians enjoyed free concerts and theatrical performances, including a public reading of Dante’s Divina Comedia. All the while, the city was illuminated by il tricolore, the red, white, and green colors of the Italian flag. Taking a page from America’s Fourth of July celebrations, i fuochi di artificio, fireworks, lit up the night sky at midnight.

Although I still had Italian class Thursday, the majority of Italians spent their March 17th in solidarity and remembrance. Since the day is a national holiday, schools, offices, banks, and the majority of non-tourist businesses are closed. There are no backyard barbeques like in the United States, but there is a great deal of reflection and appreciation for the nation’s unification. While the day is dedicated as a time of celebration, however, there are some Italians who refuse to participate in the festivities. My Italian professor told our class that many northern Italians do not observe 3/17 because the day promotes an idea of unity that they believe does not exist. In their opinions, religious, political, and economic divisions reflect a country that is far from unified.

While such divisions do exist, the idea of protesting Italy’s anniversary appears to only intensify the tension amongst Italians. By denouncing the commemoration, one is denouncing the country’s history and taking a step backwards. The people of the peninsula are not solely Florentines, Romans, Ligurians, or Sicilians but also Italians. This conflict of self-identification is similar to the debate about national and civil identity in the European Union. The anniversary is a one-day a year celebration, and even if it is just for one day, the anniversary represents a time when Italians should come together as one.

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