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Pope Francis recently celebrated his 81st birthday and, in keeping with his reputation as a down-to-earth pontiff, he did it in style. As well as munching on a birthday cake designed by Italian graffiti artist MauPal, His Holiness proved how relatable he really is by throwing a massive pizza party. He shared 13 feet of tomato and mozzarella-topped dough with children from a Vatican paediatric clinic, also asking for their help in blowing out the pizza’s single white candle. But how do Italians and the citizens of Rome usually celebrate the big day?
The answer is; it depends. While the Pope’s birthday isn’t a day of gift giving and exchanging best wishes among the general population, some Italians do like to mark the occasion.
Some choose to get in touch with the Pope directly by sending cards, letters or emails – last year his inbox was filled with over 70,000 emails from well-wishers around the globe. The papal postbox receives about 30 large mail sacks a week, more around special occasions and milestones, but, according to the Express, any presents he receives are recycled and donated to religious institutions or soup kitchens.
Other Italians, especially those living in Rome, might decide to pay a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica. Even on his birthday Pope Francis tends to stick to his usual busy schedule of back-to-back meetings and audiences so if there’s a mass, Angelus prayer or papal audience typically scheduled for that day, chances are it’ll still go ahead.
In particular, church groups, social initiatives and individuals who just straight up appreciate His Holiness’ hard work (or are looking for some free publicity) are those most likely to organise something special in honour of the occasion.
When he turned 78 in 2014, thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square to sing Tanti Auguri, or Happy Birthday, and dance a mass tango to celebrate with Pope Francis. Un tango per Papa Francesco was thought up by Cristina Camorini, a dance teacher from Ravenna in the northern Emilia-Romagna region, and principally organised via social networking.
In recent years, the pontiff has also spent his birthday having breakfast with homeless people, distributing sleeping bags to those sleeping rough in Rome and sending food to a migrant shelter.
Pope Francis was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio on December 17 1936 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This year he celebrated his fifth anniversary as the head of the Catholic Church.