Italian festivals are a distillation of the Italian people’s love affair with life—passionate, rambunctious and enduring. Take your pick from a smorgasbord of religious and historical celebrations, and the ones related to the performing arts and music. Here’s a selection of some of the fun festivals:
Many towns hold colourful carnivals but the one that happens in Venice is as enticing as the city that hosts it. It is a collective letting down of hair that takes place in the period preceeding Ash Wednesday (February 16 to March 5, 2019) when Venetians sport mysterious masks and the city is abuzz with parades, markets and concerts.
FESTA DEI SERPARI
(Snake Charmers Festival; Cocullo, Abruzzo)
This festival is probably the oldest in Europe and one of the strangest. On May 1, a statue of the patron Saint Domenico (protector against toothache and snake bites) is garlanded with live, non-venomous snakes and borne ceremoniously across the hilltop town in the southern region of Abruzzo to the pumping of happy tunes by a brass band. Young women with snake-shaped pastries on their heads strut down the streets. After the procession, the snakes are released into the wild.
FESTA DEI CERI
(Candles Festival; Gubbio, Umbria)
Held on May 15 every year, this festival held in Gubbio, Umbria, is wreathed in medieval magic. Three teams participate, each hauling a cero (giant wood pillar-like candles weighing up to 400 kg). The yellow candle represents the town’s patron saint, Saint Ubaldo, while blue represents
Saint Giorgio’s candle and black Saint Antonio’s candle. The three wend their way down streets strung with colourful banners and flags. At 6 pm, the race begins with Saint Ubaldo’s candle in the lead.
(The Banner; Siena, Tuscany) June 29 to July 2 and then again from August 13-16
Italians like to flirt with danger and that’s what they do for the two Palios held in Siena which are essentially bareback horse races preceded by a line-up of supporters in traditional garb.
FESTA DI SAN GENNARO, NAPLES
On September 19 every year, thousands gather in the cathedral and wait breathlessly for the blood of Saint Gennaro, held in two vials to liquefy. This, the locals believe, would be a miracle that will save the city from a disaster in the future. With irritable Mt Vesuvius at its doorstep (its last fit of bad temper happened in 1941), Naples lives on the edge and invokes divine assistance now and then. The event also happens on the first Sunday in May and on December 16.
In July each year, Perugia comes alive for 10 days with guitar riffs and solos as live jazz events are held in piazzas big and small and in indoor venues and theatres. Sip a fine wine or dine in a restaurant while outside, flamboyant performers strum their hearts out.
(Historic Regatta, Venice)
On the first Sunday in September, a flotilla of 16th century-style gondolas glides down the Grand Canal steered by gondoliers in traditional costumes, followed by a race.
On New Year, Oriveto near Rome, resounds with strains of jazz, blues and soul but the most stirring is the concert with a gospel choir in the high vaulted confines of its majestic cathedral.