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The Roman Festivities

Holiday and Feast in Rome: La Befana
Holiday and Feast in Rome: Befana Romana

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The 6 th of January - La Befana

Epiphany originally means Manifestation, Revelation of the Verb. The world has undergone a popular corruption that has changed it in befana. In the popular imagery the befana is a very old witch with a long nose and a big humpback that spends the year making toys for the good children and preparing carbon for the bad ones.
Since long piazza Navona is the scenery of this festivity, half sacred and half profane. During the 19 th century the children of the foreigner colonies of Rome used to render homage to the Infant Jesus in their languages and customs.
For eight days the square was filled by stands selling toys and handicraft. After the fifties the handicraft have been replaced by more commercial products and lots of sweets. In the night of the 5 th there are great parties all over the city.

The 17 th of January - The Blessing of the Animals in Sant'Eustachio

In front of the Church of Sant' Eustachio it takes place the 17 th of January the blessing of the animals. Once the ceremony was characterized by long processions of many different animals.
Today most of the animals are domestic ones, such as cats and dogs.

The 19 th of January - The Purim of Rome

The Purim is a Jewish festivity typical of Rome. This festivity occurs to celebrate a happening of the 1793, when the French troops tried to set fire to the Jewish ghetto.
In this occasion a providential storm saved the ghetto and its inhabitants from its burning. Since then the Hebrews of Rome celebrates this miraculous happening every 2 nd of Shevat.

The 2nd of February - La Candelora

The Candelora is a religious festivity founded by pope Gelasio 1 between 492 and 496. This tradition actually takes roots in the oldest Roman history, when February, being the last month of the year, was considered the month of purification.
The sacrificial rite took place every 13 th of February in the cave of Lupercale, the place where according to tradition Romolo and Remo were nursed by the Capitoline she wolf. In this day a goat was killed by the so called lupercali, the Roman priests destined for this rite, with the scope of cleansing people's souls from sin through the blood and skin (cut to create special whips) of the sacrificed animal.
When this bloody rite was abolished its tradition was so strongly rooted that the Church had to convert it to Christianity. Every 2nd of February Romans received the purification through the benediction of the candles, hence la Candelora, the name of this festivity. After the procession, the blessed candles were kept at home to protect its inhabitants.

The 9 th of February - The Declaration of the Roman Republic

In the morning of the 9 th of February Giuseppe Galletti read in Piazza del Campidoglio the decreto fondamentale of the Roman Republic.
Even though the Republic falls few months later this day continued to be celebrated in the name of freedom, independence and sacrifice of many Romans and Italians who have struggled against the temporal power of the Church.

The 9 th of February

The anniversary of the foundation of the Roman Republic is also a Jewish festivity. The Constitution of Republic, in fact, established the freedom of worship, which meant the full emancipation of all the Jewish people of Rome, segregated in the ghetto since 1555.

The Roman Carnival

During the 18 th and 19 th Century the Roman Carnival was a happening very famous in all Europe. It was characterized by lots of parties and processions all along the streets of the city.
All the Romans and many foreigners took part to this merry week. The most clamorous happening was the run of the horses, abolished after the dead of one soldier in 1870. Since then the Roman Carnival has undergone a sudden decline.

The 9 th of March - Santa Francesca Romana. The blessing of the cars.

Born in the thirties of the 20 th Century, this young tradition is supposed to rise its importance during the years.
The increasing widespread, and dangerousness too, of cars in this century have pushed Romans to elect Santa Francesca Romana as patron saint of all the vehicles. The gathering and blessing of the cars takes place each 9 th of March in front of the church devoted to Santa Francesca Romano, close to the Foro Romano.

The 19 th of March - Festa di San Giuseppe

The fame of San Giuseppe, due to the simplicity and goodness which characterize him, is very widespread among common people, especially the artisans, who has elected him as their patron saint.
In his honour, many Roman churches and children have been named after San Giuseppe. The widespread of this name contributed to increase the popularity of this Saint, widely celebrated since long time by all the Romans the 19 th of February. In this merry day Romans meet at the Trionfale and eat the traditional frittelle (pancakes) and cream puffs prepared in enormous frying pans in front of everybody.
That's why this festivity is known as "Sagra di San Giuseppe Frittellaro". Around the stands of pancakes are gathered all the different stands where artisans sell their typical products.

The Holy Week - The Mistery Plays of the Gonfalone at the Colosseo

The Mistery Plays have always been organised during the Holy Week by the Confraternity of the Gonfalone, the most important charitable institution in Rome since its foundation in 1264.
One of the most spectacular performance was the one dedicated to the representation of the Passion, which took place in the Colosseum, close to the Church of Santa Maria della Pietà.
The scenery was beautifully painted by famous artists, such as Antonio Romazzo. Everything was executed with the greatest care for details. The popularity of this Roman Holy Play in Italy is proved by the numerousness of the texts of this dramatic play.
Even nowadays, in the little town of Sordevolo, the ancient play of the Passion is represented for three months by 400 of the 1400 inhabitants of the town.

I Quaresimali

During the Lent Romans used to eat the "Quaresimali", the typical Roman baked sweets prepared with leavened dough, sugar, pine seeds and raisins.
The 1 st Friday of March boys used to give those special sweets to their lovers (sometimes hiding a ring inside!). The consumption of the quaresimali during the Lent was probably allowed in order to relieve the hard dietetic restriction.
There is a popular nice little strophe about this sweet break of the Lenten fasting:

Er primo è pe' li presciolosi;
Er siconno pe' li sposi;

Er terzo pe' l'innamorati;
Er quarto pe' li disperati

The 25 th of April - Festa di Pasquino

Born in 1508, this festivity was originally organised by students who, in this day, carried in procession the statue of Pasquino adorned with a mythological mask all along the streets of Rome.
By the procession students used to read epigrams in Latin which exalted the regime. When this tradition stopped to be celebrated a new, daily "pasquinismo" began to be clandestinely diffused by students. This time the literary production, typically satiric, worked against any established institutions, denouncing the abuses of power perpetrated by the Church and the nobles.
Even though students have been for long persecuted by authorities, this new form of literary protest has continued to survive up to today as a manifestation of free denunciation of citizens.

The 16 th of May - La Visita alle Sette Chiese

The Tour of the Seven Churches takes place every year in the month of May, and more exactly by the Ascension Day. It is a very old Roman tradition instituted by san Filippo Neri, patron of the city, in order to join the two most typical sides of Rome: the sacred one and the profane one.
The religious tour, on foot, included the visit of the seven most famous churches of the city: San Lorenzo fuori le mura, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Santa Maria Maggiore, San Giovanni in Laterano, San Sebastiano all'Appia Antica, San Paolo fuori le mura and San Pietro in Vaticano.
This devotional pilgrimage was accompanied by a merry picnic in the country, by music, concerts and a special reading performed by a little child, who repeated by heart a little sermon especially written for this occasion.
That's why san Filippo called that religious festivity the "Christian Carnival". Even thought some practices have changed through the centuries, the merry spirit of this singular pilgrimage has been preserved up to today.

The 31 st of May - Shavuot

The Shavout , one of the most important Jewish festivities, belongs to the shelosh regalim , the three pilgrimages to the Temple of Jerusalem.
It takes place the 6 th of Sivan , that falls exactly 49 days after the Easter, and celebrates both the event of the Ten Commandments on the Sinai and the early produces of nature. The flowers decorating the Roman synagogues during those days of celebrations establish therefore a double bound. One with Jerusalem, whose streets, in those days, are decorated too with fruits and flowers to celebrate the rebirth of the nature.
The other with the episode of the Exodus, according to which by the promulgation of the Ten Commandments the Sinai emanated a very peculiar smell of flowers.

Holiday and Feast in Rome: Strawberries Festival in Rome

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Sant'Antonio da Padova. Festa delle fragole a Campo de' Fiori

In occasion of the festivity of Sant'Antonio da Padova, the Roman girls who used to harvest strawberries organised every 13 th of June a party in Campo de' Fiori to celebrate the ending of the harvest time.
This festivity was called Trionfo delle fragole , that is Triumph of the Strawberries. At the centre of the field was built a very big basket around which the girls used to lay little baskets filled with strawberries.
At the end of this "ritual" sturdy men used to carry the basket on their heads through the streets of the centre. During the procession girls and boys used to sing merry songs celebrating Sant'Antonio, such as:

Salutiamo cor fischietto
sant'Antonio Benedetto.
Trullallero, trullalà
Tutti quanti a sfravolà

The celebration ended with a general, and generous, distribution of the strawberries.

The 24 th of June

According to tradition, every Night of San Giovanni the ghost of Erodiade, the adulteress wife of Erode Antipa, mustered the witches by the field of Laterano where, crying and moaning, wandered the ghost of Salomè.
The cabala lasted till the morning. All the Romans used to run to the fields keeping bells and lanterns in order to see the witches flying in the dark. The bells would wake up the Sleeping Beauties who stood up to join the party. Before going out they used to leave on their doors some brooms and tins of coarse salt in order to prevent witches to enter into their houses.
In fact the witches would have been pushed by their innate curiosity to count all the blades of common mill of the brooms and all the grains of salt, wasting all the hours of the shortest night of the year. The sun, rising, would drive them out with the last shadows. In the meanwhile, between Santa Croce and the Basilica, Romans would light the "Fires of San Giovanni" to contrast the darkness of the night with the light.
Than they all run out in the countryside, by the "Salita degli Spiriti" ("Exit of the Spirits"), where they would make the last rite, the eating of the stewed slugs. This rite had a very special meaning of reconciliation. The "horns", in fact, being diverging, symbolised the "discord". Eating them Romans would bury all the grudges and hard feelings into their stomachs.
All those beautiful traditions and old customs now forgotten could be resorted in name of Reconciliation and Concord. Fortunately we can enjoy hundreds of traditional songs which survived through the years. One of them recites:

Me feci un bell'insogno, l'altra notte,
che annamio tutt'e dua a San Giovanni...

The 29 th of June - Santi Pietro e Paolo

Once Romans used to celebrate with great festivities the martyrdom of San Pietro and Paolo. Each 29 th of June they used to go to two famous taverns in the Roman countryside, the "Osteria del '31" and the "Scarpone" where they would dine with the food carried from home paying only the "scommido".
The most alluring attraction was the great lighting of the Cupolone. The festivities ended by Castel Sant'Angelo, illuminated by the fireworks. San Paolo was celebrated also the 30 th .
In this day Romans used to have great stuffings, especially of roast suckling pig sold by pedlars whose stands, together with those of the sellers of toys, were widely widespread all over during those festivities.

The 18 th of July - Festa de Noatri

This festivity is the profane side of the biggest and most popular religious festivity of the Trastevere and one of the few survived. Every year it is visited by lots of believers and tourists.
The Festa de Noatri falls on the first Saturday after the 16 th of July, the day in which the Church celebrates the Madonna of Carmine. In this occasion the statue of the Madonna, decorated with precious dresses and jewels, is carried through the streets of the Trastevere in a very solemn procession from the church of Sant'Agata to the basilica of San Crisogono.
The statue remains in this church for the devotional visitors till the following Monday, when it is carried back to Sant'Agata. As it always happens by those religious festivities, the streets of the Trastevere are filled with lots of pedlars selling any kind of product fill.
Hundreds of stands, illuminated taverns and theatrical and musical performances contribute to create the fascinating and typical profane scenery of this religious celebration.

The 5 th of August - Madonna della Neve. The Snowfall by Santa Maria Maggiore

According to an old legend the erection of the biggest Roman church devoted to the Virgin Mary, Santa Maria Maggiore, is bound to a miraculous snowfall. The 5 th August of a remote year, in the second half of the IV Century, both the pope Liberio and the noble patrician who substituted the Roman emperor, had the same dream.
In their dreams they were suggested to erect a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in a place that the following day would have been covered by a blanket of snow. The miracle happened on the peak of the Cispio that, in the past, was for long a very ill-famed place.
The chapel has gained great fame through the centuries. Still, though its importance both historical and artistic, the chapel has always been bound to its simple legendary origin, which makes it famous as "Santa Maria of the snow".
So, for long, each 5 th of August the chapel becomes the scenery of a ritualistic and devotional commemoration during which a great fall of white petals of rose falls down the peak of the church. The repetition and commemoration of this legendary happening in such a hot day breaks for a while the modern stress of the city.

The 7 th of September - Homage to Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli

The 7 th of September Rome celebrates the birth of its greatest poet, Giusepe Gioacchino Belli, who, in his vast literary production in dialect, has left a lively and authentic witness of a complex city, recording its social and inner life. Thanks to his poems we can rediscover and live the spirit of Rome in all its aspects and atmospheres.
Romans celebrate his poet in a very simple and essential way. First of all carrying a flower to the monument, today well restored, dedicated to him and, in the evening, attending to the meeting organised in his memory at the piazza Fontana di Trevi, where he has written most of his poems.
Every year some important exponent of the cultural life chairs the meeting by telling his relationship with Belli, while some actors would read some of his sonnets.

The 20 th of September - Porta Pia

The 20 th of September 1870 few cannon shots of the artillery of general Cadorna open a beach in the Porta Pia, marking the end of the temporal power.
By this happening, in fact, pope Pio IX ordered to hoist white flag on the cupola of San Pietro, on Castel Sant'Angelo and on the tower of Santa Maria Maggiore.
Together with the troops, entered into the city also the freedom, the democracy and the modernity. The Rome of the Popes soon became the Third Rome, capital of Italy. This date has always been celebrated as the triumph of anticlericalism and freethinking.

The 2 nd of November - I Luoghi della Memoria - The Places of Memory

Since 1994, in occasion of the All Saint's Day, the city of Rome has instituted a meeting which has become a tradition: "Luoghi della Memoria. Attori e Poesia" ("The Places of Memory. Actors and Poetry").
The meeting is celebrated through the recital of lyrics and pages of prose and by concerts of sacred music that take place by the "Sacred Places" such as the monumental Cemetery of Verano, the Cemetery Acattolico, the Cemetery Flaminio, the Sepolcro di Romolo, and the Pantheon.
This special and commemorative meeting of literary works, monumental places, artist interpreters and the public creates a very emotional and reflexive atmosphere which, establishing a dialogue with the dead, confirms the belonging to the city of the livings.

The 2 nd of November - Absolution of the souls of the drowned in the Tevere

A very solemn ceremony takes place every 2 nd of November in the isle Tiberina. In this night people participate to a "via crucis" along the riverbanks of the Tevere, suggestively illuminated by the traditional padelle .
Lots of believers, with torches and candles, take part to this rite of suffrage in honour of those who have died in the waters of the river Tevere. The procession ends at the oratory with the absolution of the souls of the drowned.

The 25 th of November - Santa Caterina. The Arrival of the "Pipers"

The "Pipers" (the "pifferai") are very picturesque strolling musicians coming from Abruzzo characterized by large and richly decorated hats, long mantles, colourful trousers, long hair, and bushy beards.
Their coming on the 25 th of November, Santa Caterina, falls on the traditional begin of the winter and their suggestive presence through the streets of the city creates and diffuses the typical Christmas-atmosphere. In that day Romans change the blankets of their beds, light their braziers and lay a doormat on their front door.
And, thanks to the coming of the pipers, they begin to feel the spirit of Christmas.

The Saturnali

The festivity of the Saturnali was the last of the old Roman calendar. It was dedicated to Saturn, god of the mythic "golden age", when men used to live in peace and with no need of working. Romans celebrated it as a real vacation that lasted five days, from the 17 th to the 23 rd of December.
According to the poet Catullo those were the most beautiful days of the year. After the religious rituals that took place the 17 th in front of the Temple dedicated to Saturn it began a sort of carnival characterized by the total freedom of behaviour, including transgression and licentiousness. Everything was allowed during those days of festivity. Even slaves could eat together with their masters and be served by them. People used to wander through the city wearing masks and everywhere there were shows, dances and music.
Actually the origin of this festivity is much older and coincided with the end of the agricultural year. Farmers used to celebrate the end of the seed time with a sort of magic and propitiatory ritual during which they would eat all the food supplies to have them back the following year.
Falling on the winter solstice, this festivity would also neatly mark the passage between the finishing and the beginning year. That is why people used to exchange propitiatory presents such as walnuts, honey, dates, and candles which, once lighted, symbolised the light, and warmth, of the sun next to rise and begin again its cycle in the sky.

The 31 st of December - The New Year's Day in piazza del Popolo

Since 1993, in occasion of the New Year's Day, a new popular festivity has begun to be celebrated by hundreds of thousands of Romans, and foreigners, at the piazza del Popolo.
Every year fascinating original shows, street musicians, and great concerts entertain the people during their festivities, mostly characterized by great dances and fireworks. The parties of the night are preceded by cultural happenings during the day.
In different places, mostly churches and museums, Romans and visitors can enjoy cultural shows and musical concerts. In the last three editions some of the most interesting images of the greatest contemporary artists have been projected on facades of churches and palaces around piazza del Popolo.
The enormous popular participation to this event has granted the success of this annual meeting.

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