Many European countries – including Italy – celebrate International Workers Day on May 1Schools, government offices and most businesses are closed. And just as Americans celebrate Labor Day every September, Italians typically celebrate Festa dei Lavoratori (also known as Primo Maggio) with concerts, parades, picnics and family time. Here are some interesting facts about the holiday: 

Much like labor holidays or May Day events around the world, Festa dei Lavoratori celebrates the economic and social gains that Italian workers have achieved, such as eight-hour work days, safe working conditions, and the right to vacation time. It also promotes updating and adding more protections and privileges so workers are treated fairly. 

Festa dei Lavoratori was preceded many years ago by “Il Calendimaggio,” an agricultural celebration marking the start of the growing season. Many regions in Italy still celebrate Il Calendimaggio – “calendi” means day, and “maggio is May – May Day. In Assisi, residents plan all year for the celebration, which lasts several days. 

Festa dei Lavoratori honors the common worker. It dates back to the late 1880s when labor unions started emerging around the world. Festa was suspended in 1925 when the fascist regime controlled Italy. The holiday was restored by the Italian government in 1945 after World War II. 

One of the largest Festa dei Lavoratori celebrations in Italy is the Concerto a San Giovanni in Rome, sponsored by Italy’s largest labor unions. The massive free event is held in the piazza in front of the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano. Besides Italian artists, the concert also features international stars, and supports emerging and independent artists. 

In 2011, the Concerto a San Giovanni in Rome was held on the same day as the beatification of Pope John Paul II. More than 1.5 million pilgrims traveled to Rome for the religious event, as well as thousands more who attended the concert. 

Foods for Primo Maggio often include “fava e pecorino,” featuring fava beans (broad beans) which are in season. Their nutty flavor pairs well with Italian pecorino cheese made from sheep’s milk. Add a loaf of Italian bread, dried sausage or ham, and some wine, and it’s a perfect Italian picnic. 




Fava bean photo courtesy of Michael Pucciarelli, Board of Directors vice-chairman, Italian Cultural Foundation at Casa Belvedere 

The Italian Cultural Foundation at Casa Belvedere is a not-for-profit organization that celebrates everything Italian by sharing stories such as this, and offering exceptional public programs: Language and cooking classes; art and photo exhibits; film festivals; opera luncheons and casino nights; Italian car shows and fashion shows; live concerts and theatrical performances; guest chef experiences and wine tastings; bocce and bingo (tombola); and much more. Casa Belvedere (house with a beautiful view) has established itself as a vibrant and buzzing cultural center in New York City. For more information, visit

Compiled by Joyce Venezia Suss