Folklore and traditions
Customs and habits
Fairs and events, both sacred and profane
The Abruzzo Region is proud of its heritage of sacred and profane country fairs and rites which represent a cultural tradition of unaltered importance for its local populations.
To be acquainted with the history of its traditions and to discover it again by means of its events is important so as not to lose from sight the essence of the region and the identity of its various areas when you visit it. During the whole year, large towns and small villages offer events of every possible type where the participation of the locals is one of their essential values.
The rites of pagan origin are those that have their roots in a very distant past and which refer to customs and superstitions tied to popular beliefs. These can be found in some fairs which have been turned over the years into real performances where Christian elements have consolidated ancient tradition. Amongst the most famous ones of the region are those in which the pagan heritage has been moulded into the cult of a highly revered saint, Abbot Domenic who, around the year 1000, built monasteries all over the centre of Italy and was well-known as a doctor. There are many events based on the legend whereby he could chase away snakes and wolves, atavistic symbols of primitive man’s subjection to nature. The Rite of the Snake Catchers of Cocullo, and some scenic representations, such as the Lu lòpe at Pretoro, a lively story of wolves and children, are in fact dedicated to Domenic and his miraculous powers.
The fairs concerned with the peasants’ world are also of ancient origin; they scan the rhythm of the seasons, the cycle of work and the movements of cattle, the so-called transhumance. In the agricultural world, such fairs celebrated nature and the universe and exorcized the fear of negative atmospheric conditions that could ruin entire harvests, jeopardizing the survival of the community itself. The pagan roots of these fairs have, with time, absorbed the Christian cult, so that nowadays, they melt and meet together several times in the course of the year. For example, the Gara del solco dritto [Competition of the Straight Furrow] at Rocca di Mezzo, or the fairs where decorated oxen have an important role, such as Festa del bue di San Zopito [The Fair of the Ox of Saint Zopito] at Loreto Aprutino, the Processione delle travi [The Procession of the Beams] at Scanno and the Maggiolata at Atri. And it is precisely the procession which best recalls the transhumance rites. One of the most important ones, which refers once more to Saint Domenic, is the Processione all’eremo di San Domenic [The Procession to the Hermitage of Saint Domenic] at Villalago that starts from the Molise Region and follows ancient sheep-tracks. At the fair of Ju catenacce at Scanno, a representation of an ancient wedding rite, one feels the true soul of the peasant taking part, as one does also at the Rievocazione mestieri e arti contadine [The Commemoration of Country Arts and Crafts] at Penne Sant’Andrea.
Fire, a purifying element in both pagan and Christian tradition, is the leading element in a series of rites in honour of Abbot Saint Anthony, celebrated on 17th January, the date which is also the beginning of the Carnival period. In this circumstance, from the first day of this period onwards, in many areas of the Abruzzo Region, bonfires are lit, piles of wood and whole structures are burnt and continue to do so in the darkness, to heat the cold evening winter air in memory of the protector of fire and animals. The Festa di Sant’Antonio Abate [The Fair of the Abbot Saint Anthony] is celebrated in many, many villages, but its most spectacular performance is that of the Farchie at Fara Filiorum Petri (in the Province of Chieti). The Rito delle Fanoglie at Villalago is, instead, dedicated to Saint Dominic. Fire returns as an important element at the end of the year in the Le glorie di San Martino [The Wonders of Saint Martin] at Scanno and at the Tomba di Pescasseroli.
The range of Christian festivities is very wide. Every village celebrates the liturgical day of its patron saint with festivities that may be sacred, sometimes more, sometimes less, as for example, processions and abundant feasts in the village square. As soon as Carnival finishes, the Easter rites begin all over the area; one of the most unusual is the Madonna che scappa in piazza [the Madonna who runs away in the square] at Sulmona and the Sagra dei Talami [the Fair of the Bridal Chamber] at Orsogna. Pentecost is another important festivity; for this occasion, it is worth going to Luco dei Marsi to take part in the rite of the I signori dello Spirito Santo [The Gentlemen of the Holy Spirit]. In June, it is the turn of the Corpus Domini and of the Saints Peter and Paul; between July and August, the festivities in honour of the Virgin Mary take place; and then, autumn and the celebrations for the Advent and Christmas. There are many other opportunities for getting together to pay homage to God and, at the same time, to enjoy oneself, moments which combine peasant religiousness with the history and traditions of various places. This happens in the Festa dei Banderesi at Bucchianico or in the rite of the Fave di San Nicola [The Broad Beans of St. Nicholas] at Pollutri, and in the Gran perdonanza papale [The Great Papal Pardon] at L’Aquila or in the Corsa degli zingari [The Gypsies Race] at Pacentro. The bond between religion and the earth is also consolidated in the numerous rites of the Donativo del pane [The Donation of bread], which takes places in many areas.
The sea is also a source for interpreting festivities, on whose waters processions unravel in decorated boats. You can admire them at Giulianova and Pescara in honour of the Madonna di Portosalvo and of Saint Andrew, respectively.
At the end of the year, there is the tradition of living Holy Cribs, from the one at Rivisondoli and Chieti, to the very particular historical representations at Campo di Giove and Vittorito, in which old crafts come to life again.
The traditions of this area are also recalled by means of actual historical commemorations, exact reproductions of past happenings where every detail is precisely reconstructed. The place is that of the villages, which have often remained unaltered over the centuries, and the actors are local people who wear historical costumes copied exactly, down to the slightest detail. The villagers devote themselves enthusiastically to preparing the event, so much so that they develop their own abilities in activities such as that of the flag-wavers, musicians, crossbowmen, archers and knights. The
Giostra Cavalleresca di Sulmona, the Certame di Popoli, the Sfilata del Mastro Giurato at Lanciano, the Festa della Madonna of the Turks at Tollo, the Palio del barone at Tortoreto, the Toson d’Oro at Vasto are amongst the most famous of these historical representations.
In Abruzzo, country fairs dedicated to food and local specialities are also very popular. An example of these is the so-called panarde, a word that describes ritual feasts that once were set up to celebrate specific anniversaries, perhaps with the purpose of helping the under-privileged. Nowadays, as then, the quantity of courses eaten is amazing (about fifty) and the duty of the guests is to leave nothing on their plate….not even an olive. The banquet at Villavallelonga is truly spectacular. The many country festivals are definitely not to be missed; they usually take place in summer and they give importance to typical products of the area in large banquets in the village squares. Some have a long history, such as the Sagra delle ciliegie [Festival of the Cherries] at Raiano; and there are other more specific ones, such as the Sagra della Quagliata at Civitella Alfedena.
Not to be missed:
The Fair of Sant’Antonio Abate – various places – 16th -17th January
Living nativity creche