Italian Festivals Big and Small

Si sà che agli italiani piace celebrare le cosiddette Sagre o Festival che si organizzano durante l'anno in tantissime comunità del territorio Italiano. Tante di queste sono famose anche all'estero. E' una opportunità per gli italiani di riunirsi e celebrare assieme in un modo tradizionale. Due delle piu importanti sono Il Carnevale di Venezia e L'Umbria Jazz Festival. Altre sono La festa di San Giacomo in Sicilia, la Sagra del Pesce a Camogli; il Ravello Music Festrival e la Festa di San Gennaro a Napoli che si celebra anche in tante comunità italiane in America.

Italy loves its festivals and every city, town and community celebrates them with great enthusiasm and participation. Many of these festivals have achieved a reputation and are well-known throughout the world, and others are small but equally as important and sometimes even more fun.

It would take the entire issue of this newspaper to talk about all of Italy's festivals, so here are some of the more interesting ones. Aside from the obvious holidays of Christmas, New Years and Easter, which have celebrations in every Italian town, festivals usually occur in the summertime and many times are in celebration of the patron saint of a particular town. You can expect these to include processions, costumes and veneration of the saint being honored.

Major Festivals

Carnevale has to be one of the biggest festivals celebrated in Italy and although Venice has the largest celebration of Carnevale, other towns in Italy also celebrate this holiday with their own versions of Carnevale. Usually held in February or March, Carnevale is the last celebration prior to the beginning of the Lenten season. The tradition dates back to the 14th century where people wearing masks and dressed in costumes would parade down the streets of Venice. The Carnevale season lasts two weeks where parades, masquerade balls and parties occur and anything goes, or ""A Carnevale ogni scherzo vale." The children dress up too and celebrate much like our Halloween.

The Umbria Jazz Festival is a huge event that takes place each year in mid-July in the Umbrian capital of Perugia. Since 1973, this festival has featured major performers, and this year was no exception, with Carlos Santana, B.B. King, Trombone Shorty and Sergio Mendes as some of the headliners. One of the biggest jazz festivals in Europe, the Umbrian Jazz Festival has been taking place in Perugia each year since it began in 1973. In addition to the paid events inside several venues, the streets are filled with musicians and the sounds of jam sessions can be heard throughout the city. The smaller more intimate clubs feature live jazz during this fun event.

Smaller Festivals

In the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, the Feast of St James (San Giacomo) is celebrated July24 and 25 with the Festival of Light, Luminaria. Thousands of oil lamps are placed on the 142 steps of Caltagirone's famous staircase, Scala di Santa Maria del Monte. In the evening the staircase is illuminated in a tapestry design in celebration of their town's patron saint.

Sagra del Pesce is what the seaside town of Camogli calls its seafood festival, held on the second Sunday in May each year, since 1952. Boasting the largest frying pan in the world to cook the fish, the Camogli fishermen and local volunteers prepare 3000 kilos of anchovies, which they distribute to the crowds at no charge. The frying pan including handle and cover weigh an enormous 8,046 pounds, with the diameter of pan measuring over 12 feet and the handle 18 feet. This festival also celebrates the feast day of San Fortunato, the patron saint of fishermen.

The Ravello Music Festival is more commonly known as the Wagner Summer Festival and occurs in Ravello on the Amalfi Coast in July and August. This music celebration consists of classical music concerts that take place in the Villa Rufolo beginning at 9:30 in the evening. This was the garden where Wagner was inspired to compose his opera, Parsifal, and the festival in his honor has been in existence since 1953.

The Feast of San Gennaro, or La Festa di San Gennaro, is celebrated widely in Italian-American communities in the U.S. but in Naples, Italy the event is celebrated on September 19 in the streets and the Cathedral of Naples, lasting eight days.

This patron saint of Naples is attributed with protecting the city from eruptions of the volcano, Mount Vesuvius and other tragedies. The festival involves a large street procession throughout the historic district of Napoli, ending in the Cathedral of Naples. This religious festival includes a novena I of prayers in the Cathedral and a 21 cannon salute prior to the procession in the streets with the bust of San Gennaro.