Celebrating May in Italy
“Aprile con il fiore, maggio con il colore,” Italians say, “April with its flower, May with its color.” A rainbow of Italian colors, sounds and flavors is on full display during le feste (festivals) of May. If you’re heading to Italy this month, you can cheer the drivers in the famous Mille Miglia (1000 mile) car rally, celebrate Pinocchio’s birthday in Collodi (Tuscany) or sip Chianti at the wine festival in Montespertoli. Here are some other not-to-be-missed festivities:
*Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, one of the oldest music festivals in Italy, features opera, concerts and dance. The outdoor performances at night often end with dazzling fireworks displays. While in Florence, be sure to go the city’s famous Iris Garden, open to the general public only in May. You’ll gain an entirely new appreciation for the root of Florence’s Italian name: Firenze, derived from the Latin for “to flower or blossom.”
*Giro d’Italia, the largest cycling event of the country, begins on May 5 and eventually climbs the famous Passo dello Stelvio to finish at the summit for the first time in the history of the event.
*Corsa dei Ceri (Race of the Candles). The stony, silent town of Gubbio in Umbria explodes into frenzied excitement every May 15. Three teams of men run up and down its steep streets carrying Ceri, gigantic wooden constructions, each weighing about a thousand pounds and bearing a statue of a saint on top. The Ceri and the Corsa dei Matti (Race of the Crazy Ones, as it’s nicknamed) may date back to the twelfth century, when Gubbio was miraculously spared from the forces of Frederick Barbarossa. Its citizens credited Sant’ Ubaldo, who died on May 16,1160, for its salvation, and the town has held a ceremony on the eve of his death since the Middle Ages. The celebration culminates with La Tavola Bona, a banquet for 700 people, including the “crazy” Ceraioli or candle-bearers.
Other options include:
*Calendimaggio, a series of medieval and Renaissance spettacoli (shows) with concerts, dances, archery, flag-waving, cross-bow displays and torch-lit processions, held in Assisi in early May.
*La Barabbata, a procession in which men wear costumes and carry tools representing the traditional trades while white buffalo pull floats displaying the fruits of the trades, celebrated May 14 in Marta on the shores of Lake Bolsena.
*La Festa di San Domenico, a procession on the first Thursday in May in Cocullo in the Abruzzi, highlighted by the carrying of a statue of the town’s patron saint covered with live serpents.
*Sposalizio dell’Albero, the wedding of the tree, on May 8 in Vetralla in northern Lazio, in which townspeople decorate a couple of oak trees with garlands and plant new trees in a ceremony that asserts the town’s domination over the forest.
*Infiorata di Noto, a huge festival with flower petal art displays and a parade in Noto, Sicily, during the third weekend of May.
*Il Palio di Ferrara, a historical horse race dating from 1279, run the last Sunday in May, with events every weekend of the month, including a procession with over 1000 people in Renaissance costumes on the Saturday night before the race.
Words and Expressions
festeggiare – to celebrate, welcome, entertain
festaiolo — party animal, merry maker
il festeggiato / la festeggiata — the guest of honor
festino — banquet, party, feast
festicciola — get-together, gathering, small party
far festa a qualcuno — to welcome or greet someone warmly
guastafeste — party pooper
Dianne Hales is author of LA BELLA LINGUA: MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH ITALIAN, THE WORLD’S MOST ENCHANTING LANGUAGE.
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