Building Bridges

Fare il ponte” they call it here. They use the same term in several other countries in mainland Europe too. But not in the UK, where ‘making the bridge’ doesn’t exist as an expression – because it doesn’t exist as a ‘thing’. And the ‘thing’ in question is the practice of taking an extra day off between a public holiday and the weekend. That is to say, if a holiday falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday, it is common for people to ‘make the bridge’ and take respectively the Monday or the Friday off too – which necessarily cannot happen in the UK where public holidays are always on a Monday, regardless of which day of the week the festival it celebrates actually falls on.

Before anyone resorts to tired clichés about ‘idle continentals’, however, bear in mind that the counterpart to this is that there is no extra day off when a public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday. Then again, while England and Wales have just eight public holidays this year, Italy does have to squeeze twelve in. As well as Christmas and New Year, Easter and May Day, there are the four additional religious holidays: Epiphany, the Feast of the Assumption, All Saints’ Day and the Immaculate Conception – but minus Good Friday, which isn’t actually a holiday here. And then there are there are the two secular holidays, Republic Day – La Festa Della Republicca – on 2nd June, and before that, Liberation Day – La Festa della Liberazione – on 25th April.

This is a national holiday in Italy because it was the day  in 1945 on which the key cities of Milan and Turin were liberated from the forces of fascism. A resistance-led uprising and general strike designed to prepare the way for the Allies’ advance from the south paralysed industry in several northern cities and forced the Nazis into retreat. The initiative marked the end of Mussolini’s twenty-three-year dictatorship and five years of war, which included two years of Nazi occupation as well as a civil war that had resulted from Italy’s surrender to the Allies in September 1943.

Other cities including Genoa, Bologna and Venice were liberated before and after this date. However, thanks to Milan and Turin’s strategic significance, and since it was also the date on which the death sentence was proclaimed for Mussolini and his generals, it was 25th April that became recognised as the national Liberation Day. The festival was initially created by decree in 1946 “per celebrare la totale liberazione del territorio italiano”, and was enacted into law as a permanent annual national holiday in 1949. Since then, many towns up and down the country have named a street via XXV Aprile in commemoration of this critical date in the history of the Republic.

The day, which is also known as La Festa della Resistenza, has always been a day of mixed emotions: of celebration and commemoration, of liberation and loss.  As such, it is rather like a combination of D-Day partying and Remembrance Day solemnity that consists of formal ceremonies at war memorials throughout the country, coupled with parades, concerts and lots of eating, drinking and making merry, all aimed at honouring the memory of the resistance movement – in which, incidentally, 35,000 women also participated.

This year, thanks to Easter falling almost as late as it ever can, many people are apparently preparing for their celebrations by making an extended bridge between Easter Monday and Liberation Day (which falls on Thursday). And, presumably to recover from those celebrations, some are turning it into a double bridge by taking the Friday off as well. Then, with May Day coming up next week, it is said that there are even some canny souls who are going in for some extreme bridge building, and bagging themselves sixteen days off work at the cost of only seven days’ leave.  Well, 1st May is La Festa dei Lavoratori after all: the day on which workers across the world commemorate the struggle for the legal recognition of labour rights…

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