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Being italian

Snake Handlers' Procession

On the first Thursday in May, in the town of Cocullo, Italy, a statue of St. Dominic, the town's patron saint, is carried through town covered with live snakes. According to lore, the festival dates back thousands of years to pre-Christian times. To appease the Vatican, the event was adapted to additionally honor St. Dominic, who is believed to provide protection against snakebites for people working in the fields. Also, St. Dominic can intercede on your behalf for relieving toothaches and wolf bites.


Easter Celebrations in Italy

If you're lucky enough to be in Italy for Easter, you won't see the famous bunny or go for an Easter egg hunt. But Easter in Italy is a huge holiday, second only to Christmas in its importance for Italians. While the days leading up to Easter include solemn processions and masses, Pasqua is a joyous celebration marked with rituals and traditions. La Pasquetta, the Monday after Easter Sunday, is also a public holiday throughout the country.

On Good Friday, the pope celebrates the Via Crucis, or Stations of the Cross, in Rome near the Colosseum. A huge cross with burning torches lights the sky as the stations of the cross are described in several languages, and the pope gives a blessing at the end. Easter mass is held in every church in Italy, with the biggest and most popular celebrated by the pope at St. Peter's Basilica.

Solemn religious processions are held in Italian cities and towns on the Friday or Saturday before Easter and sometimes on the Sunday holiday. Many churches have special statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus that may be paraded through the city or displayed in the main square (piazza).


Participants are often dressed in traditional ancient costumes, and olive branches are frequently used along with palm fronds in the processions and to decorate churches.


Sicily has elaborate and dramatic processions. Enna holds a large event on Good Friday, with about 2,000 friars dressed in ancient costumes walking through the streets of the city. Trapani is another interesting place to see processions, held for several days during Holy Week. The Good Friday procession there, Misteri di Trapani, lasts 24 hours.


What's believed to be the oldest Good Friday procession in Italy is in Chieti in the Abruzzo region; it's very moving with Secchi's "Miserere" played by 100 violins.


Some towns, such as Montefalco and Gualdo Tadino in Umbria, hold live passion plays during the night of Good Friday. Others put on plays acting out the stations of the Cross.  Beautiful torchlight processions are held in Umbria in hill towns such as Orvieto and Assisi..



Food is traditionally a primary element of Italian life. Work patterns in Italy revolve around the midday meal, though the leisurely two-hour-long lunch break is disappearing. Bars and trattorie cater cheaply and quickly to the casual diner. The culinary traditions of Italy proudly bear several ancestries, chiefly Etruscan, Greek, and Saracen: to the Etruscans is owed the heavy use of grain, to the Greeks the widespread presence of herb-cooked fish, and to the Saracens the country’s love of pastries, rice, and citrus fruits.

Although there is no one style of Italian cooking, there being a wide variety of regional differences, Italians everywhere share a love of noodles, and pastas bear such euphonious names as spaghetti (“little strings”), penne (“feathers”), macaroni (“little dear things”), and orecchiette (“little ears”). In the south, noodles are often dressed with sauces made of olive oil, tomatoes, and spices. In the north, especially in Piedmont, they are coated in cream, butter, and cheese. Many foreigners have grown accustomed to these regional variations, as Italian cuisine has become a popular cultural export.


Happy New Year

Old Pots and Pans

To banish previous bad luck, particularly in southern Italy, there’s an attitude of out with the old and in with the new; however, this practice can be rather extreme, as old pots and pans, clothes or any old and unwanted items are thrown from upstairs windows. The act is seen to symbolize letting go of unhappiness in preparation for the future. If you’re out walking on New Year’s Eve in the south, it may be wise to borrow a crash helmet.  Similarly, in parts of northern Italy, it’s customary to banish malignant auras by smashing crockery outside the front of your house.

Red Underwear

Just after Christmas, shop windows will be awash with red undergarments; both men and women wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve to bring luck in the coming year; red is also the color of fertility and those hoping to conceive in the following year also wear red.


The Christmas Witch Tradition

La Befana visits children with a bag of goodies on her back. She flies on a broomstick and enters houses through the chimney (sound familiar?) The Italian Christmas witch is covered in soot, remnants of her travels down Italy’s chimneys. If the children were good, they receive gifts or candy. If they were bad, they receive a lump of coal or inedible candy.

To appease La Befana, leave out a plate of food and a cup of wine and never spy on her lest you be thumped by her broomstick!

The tradition of La Befana has roots in ancient Rome and may correlate to a festival that celebrated two gods – Strenia and Ianus. The Romans exchanged gifts at this time, just as we exchange gifts at Christmas.