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FATHER’S DAY—ITALIAN STYLE

March 29th, 2012 1 comment

The Festival of St. Joseph (San Giuseppe in Italian) is celebrated throughout Sicily on or near March 19th each year.  San Giuseppe, the Biblical “father” of Christ is the patron saint of Sicily.  On a recent Sunday evening we saw a nearly life size statue of the saint carried from the local church in Marina di Ragusa on a flower decked bier as faithful followers paraded through the streets in homage. 

A priest leads the procession bearing the statue of San Giuseppe

The pageantry is followed by fireworks over the sea for those who are patient enough to wait for the very slowly moving processional to return to the church.  This is not a night for small children as no fireworks can occur until San Giuseppe is safely ensconced back in his sanctuary.  Bells peal throughout the evening air as children shriek with delight at the colorful balloons being hawked on every corner. 

The Marina di Ragusa town square was crowded with people from mid-day as families promenaded along the palm lined beachfront soaking up the spring sun.  The temperatures this time of year are in the mid-60’s F. and the sky is robin’s egg blue.  The beachfront palm trees are wind-battered from a recent storm but spring has definitely arrived in time for the festival.

People start gathering early in the day at the Town Square. . .

and by evening the square has a carnival atmosphere with balloons and lights.

Many towns throughout Sicily honor San Giuseppe with their own day or days of Festival activities featuring parades, music and fireworks. 

After waiting nearly two hours for the procession in Marina di Ragusa to tuck San Giuseppe in for the night, we made our way back to the boat to tuck ourselves in. 

Our motley crew waiting for the procession.

The minute we laid our heads on the pillow, the fireworks commenced.   Even from the marina they lit the evening sky in a final salute to San Giuseppe.

By the time the fireworks went off we were back on Destiny and ready for bed!

The prior evening the nearby seaside town of Donnalucca was the site of a celebration that included flower bedecked horses of the Calvacata of San Giuseppe.  This spectacle which is purported to be a re-enactment of the flight of Mary, Joseph and Jesus to Egypt is like our Tournament of Roses Parade with horses as the floats. 

In front of the church, Mary, Joseph and the child along with a lowly donkey are greeted by the ornately bedecked horses and riders.

San Giuseppe & family are honored guests in Donnalucca. . .

as crowds line the street waiting for the parade.

The horses, which are massive creatures towering well over the heads of the parade goers, were decorated from head to hoof with elaborate structures covered with flowers artfully crafted into Biblical scenes commemorating the life of San Giuseppe. 

Horse and rider both in "costume". . .

but the horse is the center of attention. . .

and each is a virtual work of art. . .

with intricate pictures created entirely of flowers and petals.

Floral frescoes, seems a good description. I wormed my way through the crowded sidewalk to photograph the scene, but was hard pressed to capture a full picture.  Using a flash was a little tricky too as the prospect of spooking a horse that big in a crowd hardly seemed worth the risk.

A week later the festival activities moved to the larger Town of Scicli–another of southern Sicily’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. 

Scicli is known for its baroque architecture, including this church which faces the town square.

Scicli has a large square that accommodates the huge crowd of spectators for what is said to be the best horse parade of all the San Guiseppe Festivals. 

We arrived at the Cavalcata festival in Scicli with a bus load of cruisers from the marina, including Roy and Madeline from the UK

The pedestrian mall that led to the town square was lined with vendors hawking everything from handblown martini glasses to children’s toys with psychedelic lights.  Food vendors cooked from little stands set up on the street or served from special open-sided trucks–mini-food wagons. The scent of horses combined with roasting meat and french fries was less than appetizing to our stomachs.

For nearly two hours, the streets around the square were filled with high stepping horses with shiny coats and riders dressed in everything from a Superman shirt to native costume. 

Superman. . .

looks a little lame next to this high stepper!

The horses, some of them draught horses with massive bodies and hooves the size of dinner plates, and other as sleek as racing horses, strutted their stuff for the crowd. 

Check out these hooves. . .

compared to these three.

Many of the horses wore fancy collars decorated with bells that filled the square with a melodious staccato accompanied by the clip-clop of hoofs on the marble streets.

This is typical of the bell collars that many horses wear. . .

although I doubt that the horses like the noise they make.

Finally, after hours of anticipation, the flower festooned horses of the Calvacata arrive as a finale to the parade. 

Believe it or not. . .there is a horse under there.

The horses are hidden under elaborate structures that cover them from head to hoof.  The head pieces on some of the horses are so large that you can barely discern that there is an animal underneath. 

The headdresses are so large its all the animal can do to keep it upright.

Some of the horses are covered with blankets made of flowers and others with pictures of San Guiseppe fashioned from flowers.

This horse's "blanket" is made of flowers in an intricate design, and palm leaves give the illusion of floating across the ground.

San Giuseppe adorns many of the "horse floats".

I was reminded of medieval pictures of horses in elaborate armour.  Adults often accompanied by a child, each attired in native costume of black velvet pants, white shirts with intricately embroidered vests, colorful scarfs, and long black stocking caps rode atop each horse. 

Not all of the children looked thrilled to be on these massive animals.

Alongside a handler dressed in native attire is on each side with firm grip on the bridle as a precaution.  Not all the horses are happy to be decked out in such silly attire.

If you look closely, you can see one very scared horse.

The Festival of San Giuseppe has deep roots in Sicilian history and culture.  It is a religious festival first and foremost, but coming as it does in the month of March has not been usurped by tourism.  It is a festival for and by the people who live in Sicily all year.  It is a time for families to celebrate spring and to honor the Father of Christ as they honor their own fathers. 

We're not sure. . .but think the ribbons on the handlers indicates that this may be a prize winning entry.

As in any crowd for a festival, there are also people who stand out.

Seeing double??

I can’t wait to see what how Sicilians celebrate Easter, but parades and fireworks are expected.