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I am trying to understand what is the difference between "festa" and "vacanza" when they mean "holiday" (US term for a day in which most schools, stores and offices are closed because of a public celebration). I am aware of the other meanings of both words and I am not interested in them here.

From the relevant definitions of "festa" and "vacanza" in the Treccani dictionary, I infer the following:

  • festa: used when focusing on the solenity/celebration or on the object of celebration
  • vacanza: used when focusing on the period of rest

Examples:

  • Il 25 aprile è vacanza in tutte le scuole (not "festa")
  • Domani è vacanza (not "festa")
  • Domani è la festa della mamma (not "vacanza")
  • Ci sono 15 feste religiose/nazionali durante l'anno. ("not vacanze")

Is that right or is there some overlap between both words?

  • 2
    Definitely, there is some overlap between these two words because you can also say "il 25 aprile è festa" and "domani è festa". – Charo Aug 30 '19 at 7:55
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    You can see at Treccani Sinonimi e Contrari that "festa" can be what you have said in your question (point 1. a.), but also "giorno in cui non si lavora", that is, a synonym of "vacanza" (point 1. d.). – Charo Aug 30 '19 at 8:03
  • 19 March is traditionally considered “festa del papà” (St. Joseph’s feast in the Catholic calendar), but it's not a holiday (it used to be, a few decades ago). – egreg Aug 30 '19 at 9:23
  • Yes, @egreg, "festa" with the meaning of a day of celebration of a religious or civil solemnity doesn't imply that "most schools, stores and offices are closed" as stated in the question. A typical example from my country is "la festa di San Giorgio", a very important celebration in Catalonia which is a working day. – Charo Aug 30 '19 at 10:01
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    @AlanEvangelista: This is the meaning of "martedì grasso". – Charo Aug 30 '19 at 16:53
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Your examples are quite right, I would find it strange if someone doesn't understand you, but I have something to add to them:

  • "Il 25 aprile è festa in tutta Italia, quindi le scuole sono chiuse" (I wouldn't use "vacanza" here for a reason explained in the next example).

  • it's better to say "domani è festa" rather than "domani è vacanza" (as already said in comments), because "vacanza" focuses on a period longer than one day (usually).

  • third example is perfect.

  • "Ci sono 15 festività religiose/nazionali durante l'anno" in fact if you use "feste" here it seems that you mean it like "feasts/parties"

They are usually not overlapping in meaning (but of course it depends on the context) and I believe that you got the differences between the two terms.

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  • Welcome to Italian.SE and thank you for your answer! Note that "Il 25 aprile è vacanza in tutte le scuole" is an example from Treccani dictionary. – Charo Aug 30 '19 at 17:17
  • Apart from this, note that the OP is asking if there is some overlap between the meanings of these two words. – Charo Aug 30 '19 at 17:19
  • Thank you! I edited the answer. – tommaso1311 Aug 30 '19 at 17:27
  • Of course "Il 25 aprile è vacanza in tutte le scuole" is correct, but in spoken Italian I would rather use "Il 25 aprile le scuole sono chiuse per festa". But, as I said in the answer, it really depends on the context and on what we want to focus on, the celebration or the period. – tommaso1311 Aug 30 '19 at 17:32
  • Thanks for the answer! Is "festività" used for both religious and secular holidays? – Alan Evangelista Sep 6 '19 at 6:08

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