Are you planning to visit Italy in February? Wise choice. Indeed, wise perhaps is not the right word: we can say inspired choice if you want to know Italy's irreverence, irony and desire to laugh heartily. Every year, in fact, Italians from North to South are in the mood for playing and indulging themselves in Carnival excesses. From Latin carnem vale, which means goodbye meat, Carnival is the other side of the coin of Catholic rigor and spirituality. It is approximately ten days of party-time, which culminates and ends on Shrove Tuesday. The following day is actually the Ash Wednesday, which in the Catholic Church, signals the beginning of Lent, a period of fasting, abstinence and repentance.
The most popular Italian Carnival is Venice, but if we look towards south, we are not spoiled for choice. Each region has living traditions that deserve to be known. The carnival manifestations are many, but I want to mention three: Sciacca in Sicily, Castrovillari in Calabria and Putignano in Puglia.
SCIACCA AND PEPPI NAPPA
Every Carnival, in Italy, has its own king, and the one of Sciacca, province of Agrigento, is called Peppi Nappa. Wearing enormous green clothes, Peppi Nappa is a Sicilian mask of the Commedia dell'Arte who embodies the figure of a lazy, but mocking and gluttonous servant. Peppi is the nickname of Giuseppe and the Sicilian term nappa means patch: so his full name should be Joseph Patch. He is a good-for-nothing man with extraordinary agility. Since the '50s, Mayor of Sciacca gives Peppi Nappa the key to the city exactly ten days before Shrove Tuesday. In this way, Peppi becomes the absolute master of the city and Carnival’s celebrations can begin.
Peppi Nappa is represented on an allegoric float out of competition that opens the carnival parade handing out grilled sausages, candy, wine and squeezed oranges. His pranks and his insatiable appetite will be the leitmotif of all celebrations until the day of Shrove Tuesday when the mask is burned in the center of the square, so sanctioning the end of Carnival and the beginning of Lent. This final event is highly addictive with people dancing around the bonfire on notes of the hymn 'e Peppi N'ppa'.
CASTROVILLARI AND “A SERENATA D’A SAVUZIZZA”
In addition to the traditional parade of allegorical floats, in Castrovillari relives in the form of competition and serenades the old "masquerade" ritual. During Shrove Tuesday, the entire historic downtown district comes alive for the so-called Sirinata d’a Savuzizza, which means Sausage Serenade.
Masked groups knock every door offering serenades in return for hospitality. For the occasion, each landlord prepares grilled sausages and offers wine, while groups perform at the sound of accordion and tambourine. Performances are evaluated by members of a jury that will decide the group winner. It’s a competition, but the atmosphere is festive throughout the country and its visitors are greeted by tarantella’s sound and local products’ scent.
PUTIGNANO, THE BEAR AND “IL GRAN CORNUTO”
Among the oldest carnivals in Europe, Putignano has such a rich calendar of events that it is difficult to talk about it in a few lines. In a continuous confrontation with Catholic celebrations, events related to Carnival even begin Dec. 26, when at the end of the procession of St. Stephen’s relics, you can attend the Rito delle Propaggini, where groups of dialectal poets in peasant clothes retrace past years’ events in biting satires, reciting through city streets.
Between sacred and profane is also the Bear festival that takes place on February 2, a day religiously marked by the blessing of candles and known as Candlemas Day. The bear, represented both as a dangerous animal to kill and as a winter-end symbol, runs through the city followed by a procession of farmers, hunters and scarecrows to arrive, finally, in Piazza Plebiscito. Here takes place the bear capture and process. At the end of this representation, the beast provides for the rest of winter weather.
The atmosphere becomes even more irreverent with the approach of the Carnival. Every Thursday, from the end of January, are expected satirical shows for different social groups: Monsignors, Priests, Nuns, Widowers, Madmen (i.e., young people not yet married), Married women and last but not least, “Horned” (that are cuckolded men). The latter, edited annually by the Horns Academy, is undoubtedly the most characteristic and takes place on Shrove Tuesday. In the early morning, the Horned meet each other in the municipal cloister to polish their horns and create the Corneo, the cuckolds procession that will visit the "Great Horned of the Year" unexpected elected by members. This goliardic event continues in the evening with rite of purification of the horns’ cut.