One of the many charms of Italy is its culture of festivals and traditions. Spread over the whole year and varying from one region to the next, the celebrations often involve processions, historical costumes and a profusion of good food and wines. With spring in full bloom, May is a popular month for sagre (fairs) of all sizes. These festivals can be spectacular, amusing or even bizarre.
A prime example is Cocullo’s Serpari Festival (Snake Festival). This quiet town in the Abruzzo region comes to life the first Thursday in May. On that day, a statue of Saint Domenico di Sora is carried through the city draped with live snakes. It is believed that the disappearance of snakes in the fields is the work of the city’s patron saint and the inhabitants have been carrying this tradition as a gesture of thanks every year since 1392.
The Sposalizio dell’Albero (Wedding of the Trees) is held on May 8th in the Lazio town of Vetralla. Beautiful garlands ornate two oak trees, bunches of spring flowers are being distributed and new trees are being planted. All spectators also enjoy a free meal in the form of a picnic. This day marks the town’s rights over the forests and renews the firewood allowance of each citizen.
Calendimaggio also takes place early in the month in the town of Assisi in Umbria. The two ancient districts, the Parte di Sopra and the Parte di Sotto, confront each other in many disciplines such as theatre, dance, archery, songs and flag-waving. The contestants are clad in historical costumes and joust in a fabulous setting of floral decorations and torches.
On May 15th the Corsa dei Ceri (Race of the Candles) happens in Gubbio, also in Umbria. Of ancient and religious origin, the race sees three huge wooden candles, each with a statue of one the city’s saints on top, being carried all through the streets. At the end of the day they will be making their way back up the hill to be placed in the Basilica of Saint Ubaldo again.
The Festa delle Cantine aperte sees 44 wine producers in Umbria simultaneously opening their domains to the many visitors and organising wine tastings.
The Sagra del Risotto is organised in the Piemontese town of Sessame the first Sunday in May and dates back to the 13th century. You certainly will not go hungry.
Saint Fortunato, patron saint of the fishermen, is commemorated in the picturesque village of Camogli, close to Genoa. The festival is held on the second Sunday of May, but on the Saturday there is also a beautiful fireworks display and a bonfire competition.
And let’s close this selection with… Pinocchio’s birthday! It is celebrated on May 25th in Pescia, Tuscany. There is also a Pinocchio Park in Collodi, not far from Pescia.