Epiphany takes all holidays away! This is a famous saying. It is the last holiday on the calendar after Christmas and New Year’s, and there are many traditions linked to January 6th. Even in Sicily, Epiphany has its own rules. Are you ready to discover them with Sicilian Secrets?
Epiphany is a mix of sacred and profane. Its religious significance is associated with the Magi, who following the comet star reached the hut of the baby Jesus, but according to pagan rites, the undisputed protagonist of January 6 is the so-called Befana. This old lady brings gifts to good children and lots of coal to those the bad ones…her symbology is also linked to the ‘old’ year that is over and the new one that has just begun. The Epiphany in Sicily is an event that put together history and legends, and popular beliefs. This is an almost magical moment in which to remember what is handed down as the meeting between the Magi and Befana.
Did you know that there is a story according to which sacred and profane meet in just one tale?
It is said that while the Three Wise Men were traveling to Bethlehem, they knocked on a door to ask for directions. A very old lady opened the door but since she didn’t realize what those men were asking, she was unable to help them. The Magi invited the woman to join them to continue the journey together in search of the Savior, but she said no. She soon regretted that ‘no’ so much so that she decided to go looking for those three strangers, albeit without success. Since then, it seems that every night between January 5th and 6th, Befana wanders in search of Baby Jesus, and that therefore she leaves a gift to every little friend she meets, hoping to find the Messiah.
Epiphany in Sicily: around Palermo
In Sicily, the Epiphany is celebrated in different ways. Especially in some places on the island there are very typical and curious traditions. Let’s discover more!
Around Palermo, especially in towns with populations of Albanian origin such as Piana degli Albanesi and Mezzojuso, on January 6th there are many religious ceremonies in the church and in the square where the baptism of Jesus is staged. Usually, the priest takes a cross, immerses it three times in some water and, at the same time as the last blessing, a dove is released which, with its flight, recalls the descent of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s stay in the province of Palermo, precisely in Gratteri where Befana arrives early. Here, in fact, the Epiphany is celebrated on December 31st and it is on this occasion that the small town up in the Madonie lights up with a joyful folk festival. The ‘Old Woman’, who according to tradition is said to live inside the Grotta Grattara (located on the mountain opposite the town), climbs on the back of a small donkey wrapped in a white sheet and heads towards the village. What does she do on the way? She gives sweets and gifts, including the famous ‘turtigliuna’, i.e. local delicacies made of dried fruit, walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts!
Epiphany in Sicily: Messina and Caltanissetta
Epiphany is also celebrated in some other areas of Sicily. In Mussomeli, in the province of Caltanissetta, the atmosphere is strongly religious as the arrival of the Magi is represented with a procession in which Baby Jesus is led through the streets.
Finally, in Messina, in the Bordonaro district, people have fun! Citizens create ‘u pagghiaru’, a sort of Christmas tree decorated with ribbons, fruit, bread and other delicacies, and a cross on top. After the Epiphany Mass, on the evening of January 6th, 14 participants compete for the prize! At the end of the traditional celebrations, a pantomime entitled ‘U’ cavadduzzu e l’ omu sabbaggiu’ is staged: two masks on the stage tell the struggle between mankind and nature with its dangers.
Tips: Sicilian food
What do you cook for Epiphany? On the occasion of this holiday, even the palate wants to be satisfied. According to Sicilian tradition, the perfect menu begins with a risotto, preferably with radicchio or orange and shrimp. Afterwards, the second course can be fish-based, and therefore serving cod on the table, or Canapo for vegetarians. Finally, the desserts are the centerpiece: the buccellati, the shortcrust pastry biscuits, dried fruit, candied fruit and almond nougat cannot be missing. An excellent way full of flavors to say goodbye to the holiday season and start again with a lot of energy towards a new year.