Among Demons and Saints, the spectacular Mediterranean carnival
Where fact and fantasia, mysticism and superstition, ancient world and modern world entwine and blend into an indissoluble weft of popular songs and traditional dances, religious processions in costume and noisy fireworks, but also cultural events of international importance: everything is history in Sicilian folklore.
The territory of the Taormina Etna District regales you with more than one opportunity during the year to enjoy a variety of experience in contact with the most authentic face of Sicily. The main festivals are held around traditional religious events: from Christmas to Epiphany, Easter Week and 15 August, without forgetting Saints’ days, felt deeply throughout the island.
An event not to be missed on 15th August is La Vara, in Randazzo: a religious procession in honour of the co-patron saint, Maria SS. Assunta. “A Vara” is an allegorical carriage, almost 20 metres high, which portrays, on a series of stacked levels, the Marian Mysteries, with over thirty characters, boys and girls, who perform the Madonna, the Trinity, the Apostles, Angels and Saints.
In Bronte, the traditional Good Friday procession is one of the most atmospheric and archaic on the island: the parade is accompanied by the “whippers” who sing their “laments”, incomprehensible wailings featuring different linguistic transformations which have still to be deciphered by researchers. There are numerous celebrations linked with the worship of the patron saints: from the festival of San Filippo Siriaco in Calatabiano, with the traditional carriage of the Saint, hurriedly dragged by the worshippers down a steep descent, to the characteristic sea procession of the boats of the fishermen of Riposto during the festival of San Pietro, you will discover ancient rites and old traditions, preserved for centuries of faith and devotion.
Besides the main religious festivals, the whole territory offers a myriad of wine-gastronomy fairs dedicated to the pistachio, mushrooms and fruits of the forest and of the brushwood, as well as other delights yielded up by the generous local agriculture. Not only folklore and fairs: all the warmth of Sicilian hospitality will welcome you with its broad range of Carnival-style celebration which will involve you in costume parades, multicoloured carts and firework displays.
One of the most famous on the island is the carnival celebrated in the streets and squares of Belpasso, as well as the traditional parade of carts and groups dressed in costume, animated by popular dances and songs, includes a recital of local poetry in dialect. Particularly atmospheric are the carnival celebrations in Francavilla di Sicilia: an involving collective ritual which celebrates “His Majesty” the Carnival Mask, for a whole week of parades and processions, culminating in the symbolic burial of the period of frenzied excitement.
In Novara di Sicilia, for about 400 years the Carnival celebrations have accompanied the spectacular "Torneo del maiorchino", featuring a tasty local sheep’s milk cheese produced thanks to special processing and maturing phases. During the tournament. Different teams of dairy farmers compete, supported by the crowds, making roll cheeses weigh 12 kg each along a course which winds for over 2 km through the streets of the town. The natural conclusion of the event is a Fair, during which it is possible to taste the star of the celebrations, Maiorchino, as well as other typical local cheeses, such as Ricotta and Tuma.
In Taormina too, the construction of the traditional Carnival carts involves the whole population in a competition of creativity and skill enhanced by costume parades, the traditional talent show and musical parades.
Something not to be missed is the “Opera dei pupi”, a theatrical performance of meticulously cared for painted marionettes, which have re-enacted the stories of the paladins of Charlemagne in defence of the Christians against the Saracen invaders, since the 15th century. They are often present at the main festivities and local events and a section of the Vagliasindi Museum in Randazzo has also been dedicated to them, featuring examples of marionettes, sets and posters publicising this unique form of popular theatre.
If this is not enough, there are also a myriad of cultural and theatrical appointments, including the famous Taormina International Film Festival and Taormina Art, during which, every year, in July, classic prose, dance, concerts and films of international acclaim are presented in the prestigious setting of the Ancient Theatre.