February means Carnival and even in Sicily this holiday is celebrated following a bunch of traditions. Food, parades, many children (and not only) dressed in fancy dresses around the streets. The island houses some of the most outstanding Carnivals in Italy, let’s discover more with Sicilian Secrets.
Colors, masks, fancy dresses, sweets, outrageous floats and a lot of fun: this is Carnival! In Sicily, it has ancient origins and is associated with abundance. Not only food but also parties and crazy celebrations, many cities are famous for this holiday and each of them has its own soul.
Do you know the history of Carnival?
In the past it was strictly connected to the Dionysian festivity of the Antesterie in Athens and to the Latin Saturnalia later. Nowadays, according to the Catholic tradition, it’s celebrated before the beginning of the Lent and represents a period of freedom, happiness, jokes and amusement. Masks hide even social differences: once a year, Carnival gives the opportunity to behave differently and go beyond the ordinary life.
What about Carnival in Sicily? Well, the first time we heard about it was in 1600 and regarded Palermo! During the XVIII century, in the city this holiday involved everybody, from the nobles to the poor. Baroque customs, allegorical horse races and comedies were the ingredients of this great celebration that took place all around the streets.
But now it’s time to look at the present and discover, together Sicilian Secrets with, the most beautiful Carnivals on the island. Let’s start our journey…first stop Acireale!
The Carnival of Acireale in the province of Catania is one of the most ancient in Sicily. Since the XIX century, several local artisans have created artistic floats, they’re a perfect mix of know-how and creativity. According to many people, this is the best celebration all over the island! There’s just a way to be sure about that: visit the city in February. The most typical masks are the abbot and the poet, they symbolize the nobles and the clergy that pretend to read satirical verses.
The tradition has begun in the XVI century, when the main element of this holiday was the throwing of rotten eggs and oranges around the streets. Fortunately, this ‘game’ was banned and since the beginning of 1700 everything has become classier.
Nowadays, parades and outrageous floats are the main attraction, tons of tourists come to Acireale in February to enjoy the parties and celebrate Carnival in Sicily. And even in summer. Yes, because Carnival takes place twice a year. During the warm summer nights of August, the City organizes the so-called Parade of the Grotesque Floats. Don’t miss it!
The second stop of our journey is in the province of Agrigento. Are you ready to learn more about Sciacca? We could start with the classic “Once upon a time” since the origin of this celebration seems to be connected to the Roman Saturnalia. During the XIX century it represented the occasion to ‘celebrate’ also the gluttony with the traditional sausages, wine and the well-known cannoli.
Nowadays, it attracts many people especially thanks to the floats. Architects, blacksmiths, artisans of papier-mache, illustrators, choreographers and dancers work for months to organize the parades and create the allegorical wagons that represent in a funny way some famous characters of our times.
Everything begins on the Shrove Thursday, when Peppe ‘Nappa – the king of Carnival – gets the key of the city. The historical center is colored by the Grotesque floats and people that crowd the streets with their masks and fancy dresses. Moreover, Sicilian satirical poems are spontaneously read by wannabe poets. A few days later, on the Shrove Tuesday, the king is burnt! Therefore, the Carnival ends, and the Lent begins.
The last stop of our trip around Sicily is in Termini Imerese, pretty close to Palermo. The main characters of this Carnival are the puppets of Nannu and Nanna, the grandparents. This tradition dates back to the XIX century and comes from Naples. Nannu (grandpa) symbolizes the Carnival that ‘dies’ on the Shrove Tuesday. His wife, Nanna (grandma) is a thin woman that represents the Lent. To officially mark the end of the Carnival, they are burnt in the public square.
Do you want to enjoy the funniest moment of the week? Don’t miss the reading of the nannu’s will: it’s a crazy way to make fun of the most important personalities of the town! Of course, even in Termini Imerese many parades of the Grotesque Floats are organized, and both politicians and VIPs are teased around the streets.
Carnival is celebrated in many other towns of Sicily such as Corleone, Chiaramonte Gulfi, Palazzolo Acreide and more. It’s a good opportunity even to taste the specialties of this period: chiacchiere, sfinci, cannoli, pignoccata and so on. Enjoy your journey and bear in mind that Everything goes at Carnival!