Italian Language Blog

I Mesi dell’Anno Posted by on Jan 27, 2009 in Culture

I mesi dell’anno (the months of the year) have very similar names in most cultures that use the Giuliano (Julian) and Gregoriano (Gregorian) calendar. In the first century B.C. Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar, giving it its familiar structure of 365 days (366 every fourth year which is known as an anno bisestile), divided into 12 months. Apart from minor changes which were introduced in 1582 by Pope Gregorio XIII, the calendario Giuliano (Julian calendar) is still used today. This explains the fact that the names of the months are all derived from Latin and most of them refer to Roman gods or emperors. In Italian we have many proverbs and expressions that describe the characteristics of almost every month.

Gennaio (January) was the month governed by Janus, Roman god of gates and beginnings, who is depicted with faces on both the front and back of his head;

febbraio (February) comes from the Latin word februa, a purification feast held by the Romans during this month. There is a proverb which says: febbraio febbraietto, corto e maledetto (February little February, short and cursed);

marzo (March) was dedicated to Marte (Mars), god of spring and fertility as well as war. As the weather in this month is often very unpredictable the proverb goes: marzo pazzerello, c’e’ il sole, prendi l’ombrello (crazy March, it’s sunny, get the umbrella), and when speaking of a person who is particularly inconsistent we often say: e’ nato di marzo (he/she was born in March);

aprile (April): the origins of its name are uncertain, there are however many proverbs for this gentle warm month, the most famous being aprile, dolce dormire (April, sweet sleep/drowsiness), which describes so well the desire to lay down in the first warmth of the sun and sleep. But beware of the sudden changes in temperature typical of spring: d’aprile non ti scoprire (in April don’t uncover yourself). For the farmers and wine lovers the proverb goes d’aprile ogni goccia un barile (in April each drop is a barrel, meaning that April’s rain is good for the vines);

maggio (May) was dedicated to Maia, mother of Mercury and goddess of fertility and fields. In May nature is blossoming, and bella come un maggio (beautiful like a May) is the compliment we use for a young beauty. In the Roman Catholic church maggio is dedicated to the Madonna, and fare il mese di maggio (lit. to do the month of May) means to participate in the daily religious functions and prayers that are held in this month, in particular il rosario (the rosary);

giugno (June) comes from Juno, goddess of marriage and wife of Jupiter, she governs the seasons. This is the month of harvests: giugno, la falce in pugno (June, the sickle in the fist);

luglio (July) is named after Julius Caesar, born in this month. From this the sunniest and warmest month of the year, when the solleone (lit. lion’s sun) dominates nature, comes the expression vendere il sol di luglio (literally ‘to sell July’s sun’, meaning to make something that is common and abundant appear to be rare or precious );

agosto (August) was dedicated to the Emperor Augustus. In this month the rising full moon appears rounder and reddish on the horizon, that is why we use the expression tondo come la luna d’agosto (round like the August moon) to describe someone with a particularly round face. Agosto is also the time of the first rains that bring relief from the solleone and create the right conditions for wild mushrooms to grow: la prima acqua d’agosto rinfresca il mare e il bosco (The first August rain refreshes the sea and the woods);

settembre (September), from Latin septem (seven), was the 7th month of the Roman calendar which, unlike the modern one, started in March. In September you can savor fichi (figs) and uva (grapes), i frutti settembrini (September’s fruits);

ottobre (October), from Latin octo (eight), was the 8th month of the Roman calendar. As the weather is often very pleasant you can enjoy una ottobrata, an October’s outing in the countryside;

novembre (November), from Latin novem (nine), was the 9th month of the Roman calendar, and is marked by the nebbie novembrine (November’s fogs);

dicembre (December), from Latin decem (ten), was, guess what? Yes the 10th month of the Roman calendar!

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