La Festa delle Donne

March 8, 2024

I wonder how many of us know the significance of March 8th for women in Italy and around the world. It commemorates the annual Festa delle Donne (International Women’s Day) and I must confess that before I made my first trip to Italy many years ago, I had never heard about it. 

To put the day in context: in ancient Rome, the calendar year ended with February, the word meaning month of ending or cleaning in order to make way for the coming year which began on March 1st,considered the first day of spring. 

Historically March 8th was commemorated as a day sacred to Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos of Crete who was abandoned while she was sleeping on the island of Naxos by Theseus, who had promised to make her his wife if she helped him kill her father’s minotaur. His false promise led her to become the symbol for womanhood.

There are differing opinions as to when the Festa delle Donne actually took hold in some parts of Italy with some saying that it began as a grass roots political and social movement in 1922 when women began to express their political, economic and social demands. But it may well have had its roots outside of Italy in New York city, where on March 8th, 1857, garment workers went on strike leading to the formation of the first women’s union. In 1945 the Union of Italian Women proclaimed that March 8th should be set aside to celebrate all women and a year later it became a nationally recognized day for women and today is celebrated much like we celebrate Mothers Day. 

The mimosa tree which blooms in March with its bright yellow flowers and refreshing scent, became the symbol of La Festa delle Donne and its perfumed branches are given by family and friends to the women in their lives as a gesture of appreciation and love. This practice is said to have originated in Rome after World War Two, but no one knows for sure who started it. 

One thing is for sure, La Festa delle Donne is a day for women worldwide to demonstrate solidarity with each other and to showcase the important roles that women play for equality and justice.  To celebrate a spectacular looking Mimosa cake is made.

Get my recipe here.

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