February marks an important month in the Sicilian calendar as it hosts two of the islands biggest celebrations; Carnival and The Festival of Saint Agatha. Before moving to Catania (Sicily’s second largest city) last October I had never heard about either of these festivals so I excitedly awaited their arrival.
The Festival of Saint Agatha takes place at the beginning of the month between the 3rd and 5th and during this period most schools and businesses are closed to allow families to participate. The festival is considered to be one of the most important religious festivals in Europe if not the world. Saint Agatha was born in Catania however she is the patron saint of many different places both in Sicily and parts of Spain; she is also the patron saint of breast cancer patients, fertility and Mount Etna’s eruptions. Consequently, people from all over Italy and the world travel to Catania to take part in the three day celebrations that consist of processions, prayers and firework displays. The heavy statue of the Saint is carried around the city by her loyal followers who wear white costumes to demonstrate their faith. As they move through the city they hand white flowers and candles to the crowd so that each person may hold onto something that has been blessed by the spirit of Agatha.
Unlike the Festival of Saint Agatha, Carnival is not a religious celebration. Carnival occurs just before Lent and dates back to the Roman Empire. During this time people enjoy themselves to the full as they dress up in costumes or masks, take part in street parties and dance the night away. The most famous Carnival is in Venice; however, the Sicilian town of Acireale holds a notable, weeklong festival that attracts more and more visitors every year. People travel from all corners of Italy to see the procession of allegorical floats which are made out of papier-mâché and are designed by famous artists. In the past the spectators used to through eggs or pieces of vegetables as they passed by although now people throw confetti which is sold throughout the week.
The February festivals in Sicily are important as they bring communities together and are enjoyed by both citizens and tourists, people of all ages take part and appreciate the time for celebration.
Does the area where you live have any special celebrations or festivals at this time of year?