Rather than move around the calendar to a convenient June Sunday, Italian Father’s Day is always celebrated on March 19th.
This is because Father’s Day in Italy coincides with the Festa di San Giuseppe – or the Catholic feast day in honor of St. Joseph.
That would be Joseph, as in Mary and Joseph – in other words, Jesus’s earthly father figure according to the bible. Acting as an archetype of fatherhood, Italian Father’s Day came to be fixed on the day that had already long been celebrated in honor of San Giuseppe.
The day is now also known as festa del papà and the religious origins are slowly becoming replaced by a general celebration of fatherhood.
Up until 1977, March 19th was actually a public holiday in Italy. However, the day is now a more low-key family affair that is more likely to be celebrated with a small token gift from the child to the dad than it is to be marked with a trip to mass.
But best of all? Italian Father’s Day is all about the sweets.
Depending on the region of Italy, la Festa di San Giuseppe means lots of fried pastries. In Rome, the pastries are known as bignè di San Giuseppe. (You can also find them baked rather than fried — but why would you choose that kind?).
Mine is from Pasticceria Andreotti (Via Ostiense, 54), and Puntarella Rossa has a slide show of where to find the best bignès in Rome.
In Naples, a similar dessert is known as zeppola di San Giuseppe, and both versions are filled with cream.
In Northern Italy, Father’s Day is the day to eat raviola – a kind of puff pastry filled with jam. While in Tuscany, the day is celebrated with rice-based frittelle.
Regardless of where you are celebrating, auguri a tutti i papà!
(And an especially happy first Father’s Day to my husband, Jimmy!)