Carnival of Sciacca

Carnival of Sciacca
Italy has one of the oldest Carnival traditions in Europe: the famous Carnival in Venice, for example, was first documented in the late 13th century. One of the most popular Carnival celebrations in Italy is the Carnival of Sciacca, held in a town and comune in the Sicilian province of Agrigento.

The roots of Italian Carnival can be traced back to pagan festivals worshiping Bacchus and Saturn in ancient Rome; following the advent of Christianity, some of the old pagan traditions were incorporated into Catholic Carnival. Sicilian Carnival is believed to have been celebrated since at least the 17th century, but the first concrete mention of the Sciacca Carnival is dated 1889; Italian folklorist Giuseppe Pitrè mentioned it in his Biblioteca delle tradizioni popolari siciliane (“Library of Sicilian popular traditions”).

The first carnivals in Sciacca were popular festivals where people danced in the streets wearing costumes and masks and consumed lots of sausages, cannoli, and wine. Large decorated parade floats carrying masked revelers and musicians first appeared in the 1920s. They were dragged by horses or oxen. The Sciacca Carnival began to take its current shape after World War II. The allegorical floats became more elaborate and sophisticated, the parades more organized, and so the present-day day Carnival was born.

The allegorical floats that participate in the Carnival of Sciacca are conceived, designed, and created by the town’s Carnival groups in the months preceding the Carnival. The groups also prepare colorful costumes and elaborate performances. The floats are assembled on site along the parade route on the Thursday before the beginning of the Carnival.

The central figure of the Sciacca Carnival is Pepe Nappa, a character of commedia dell’arte that originated in the 17th century and was adopted by Sciacca as the symbol of Сarnival in the 1950s. During the opening ceremony, the mayor of Sciacca welcomes Peppe Nappa and hands over the keys to the city. Thus Pepe Nappa symbolically becomes the town mayor during the carnival and presides over the festivities. He has his own platform from which grilled sausages, sweets, and orange juice or soda are distributed to the people. Until the 2011 edition, it was customary to distribute wine, but it was replaced with juice or soda to combat alcoholism.

The first parade of the Sciacca Carnival is held on a Saturday two and a half weeks before Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent). The Carnival used to begin a little closer to Lent, but in recent years, Carnival parades and stage shows have been held over two weekends preceding Ash Wednesday. The final parade of the Carnival (and the biggest one) is broadcast on local television. When the parade is over, each of the masked groups performs in a stage show, and then a panel of judges awards prizes in various categories.

When the festivities are over, Peppe Nappa returns the keys to the mayor. Peppe Nappa’s chariot is symbolically burned in the city square on Shrove Tuesday, marking the end of this year’s carnival and the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent.

Carnival of Sciacca

Photo: Giuseppe Romano




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