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Traditions & Folklore

Popular traditions are the mirror of the soul of Calabrians, reflecting the region's entire history, with its domination by others, invasions and constant danger, hence the geographical and social isolation of mountains populations and a frugal but dignified family economy.
Behind each tradition there often lies a vein of fine irony, the capacity to accept the negative aspects of life taking things philosophically.

There is a tendency to a certain simpleness : the absolute belief that good will be rewarded and devil punished.
Pagan tradition often surface, but are firmly associated with Christianity.
The saints, and even the Holiest of Holies, are always shown as decidedly human, almost familiar, and the person venerated acts and behaves just like anybody else in the village.

 

At the basis of each tradition is an attitude of resigned reliving the past, a sort of gentle melancholy bordering on regret.

Not surprisingly, the most interesting, original traditions endure in the inland villages where the outer world has been much slower to penetrate.


One of the most controversial and significant event recalling the Passion and Death of Jesus Christ takes place at Nocera Terinese  ( in the province of Catanzaro and  at Verbicaro in the province of Cosenza) and and is known as La Flagellazione (The Flogging) practiced by the so called  'I Vattienti, (devotees), as a thank you for alleged 'grazie ricevute' (graces received).

A very old ritual still taking place today.

A not so similar tradition exist in Palmi and Polistena ( Reggio di Calabria province) when penitents have clumps of sharp spiny twigs laid on their heads and bare shoulders.
Many of the towns and villages still perform Passion Plays at Easter, following a precise script, often written by the inhabitants themselves.
Many sacristies still have clappers and use them as signals during the Holy week services

The stage is usually the entire village, taking in its churches, shrines and streets.
The townspeople themselves play the Gospel characters, and some roles are inherited, so that a member of a prominent family may constantly take the part of Christ.
In the large villages, the old confraternities, with costumes and ritual identical to those used at Easter in Seville (Spain), play a prominent part.


Many towns in the Catanzaro province such as Settingiano, Montepaone, Galgiato and Tiriolo celebrate the "Pigghiata" - the taking of Christ in the Garden.

Tradition has it, to varying degrees, that many sanctuaries in the region were built on sites indicated by the Virgin Mary herself or the saint honored; this is said to be the case at the Marian sanctuary of Polsi (Reggio province on Aspromonte), at Melito Porto Salvo, where the Madonna of Pentedattilo fought for possession of the sacred images.
A similar tradition is found at Cariati, where it is said S. Cataldo wanted a church built by the sea, and where sailors keep a 24-hour vigil over his statue when it is taken there once a year.
Ciro' and Ciro' Marina quarreled over which should have the S.Cataldo statue and ended only when Ciro' Marina had a statue of their own made.

At Cerchiara di Calabria, the same tradition is held regarding the Madonna di Santa Maria delle Armi, carved on a block of dark rock.
According to traditional belief,  the exact spot where the church was to stand was generally indicated by an animal - cow,  donkey or horse-coming to a dead stop and refusing to budge till the people realized what had to be done.

A farther tradition related to sanctuaries is that of carrying stones, found in Calabria at Polsi (very mesmerizing is the Festa della Madonna di Polsi, (where sacred and profane meets) and at San Sosti, on the River Rose. 


At San Sosti, pilgrims hurl the stones into the river and it is popularly belived that this rids them of their sins. At Polsi, a stone is brought to be thrown for devotional purposes


At Cittanova (Reggio di Calabria) a great bonfire for San Rocco is still lit on the church steps during the festivities.
A similar bonfire is lit for the feast of St. Joseph, at Altomonte (Cosenza). 

Many coastal towns customarily mark religious holidays by procession of boats, usually for the feast of the Assumption, in mid-August (at Crotone, Capo Colonna, Soverato, Palmi and Nicotera).

Below the festa della Madonna del Carmine at Marina di Gioiosa Jonica

In the Albanian communities prevalently along the foothills overlooking the Plain of Sibari, many village weddings are traditional affairs, solemn and impressive, celebrated according to Greek Orthodox rite, with the gleaming gold of the priest's vestments and the splendid costumes of the couple, crowned with garlands and flowers.
In a number of towns, such as Savelli on the Sila, the bride's trousseau is carried through the streets for all to see.


One of the seculat traditions is the custom of throwing coins, preferably foreign, and confetti, obvious symbols of fertility and wealth, at newly-weds. 
Many Carnival traditions are close to pagan Greek and Roman customs.


In San Sosti, at Carnival, 13 people represent the New Year and the twelve months; a woman takes the part of April.
They all then parade singing, on donkeys.
Carnival , however, has always been a time for open expression of popular dissent through fancy dress.

Killing the "carnival " ( which is burnt ) corresponds to the ritual slaughter of a pig,with the father officiating and the animal the designated victim.
This is clearly pagan, and in fact, the Romans sacrificed pigs in honor of the dead.

Many other traditions date back to the long period of the Turkish raids;
for example, the giants Mata and Grifone represent the Turk and a beautiful Calabrian woman, kidnapped for the Sultan's harem.
The event is also held in Messina, Sicily.

 

The legend of Donna Canfura, at Palmi and Nicotera, has similar origins, as does that of a nameless woman, described in the ancient Crotone song.

The tale is always the same; a beautiful Calabrian wife and mother, kidnapped by the Turk for the Sultan's harem.


In the end the woman throws herself into the sea rather than face the shame. However, she gives birth to a semi-divine siren, whose song can still be heard over the sea at certain times, or so folk say.

Some people also belive in the evil eye and the protection of a Seminara "babbulato"; and avoid setting out on a journey on Fridays and Tuesdays, thought to be unlucky days.

There is also widespread belief that it is unlucky to spill oil on the ground and that the small moths that flutter about the house in the evening are souls from Purgatory .

Hunting the swordfish and the traditions linked with this seem to be particularly important.

When the swordfish has been harpooned, silence falls over the boat.
The huge fish is then hauled on board and laid under a sort of catafalque. The skipper makes ritual marks similar to small squares, on the gills of the dead fish, and seems to mutter a prayer
.


You might also be interested to learn about : Calabria Ethnic minorities | Calabria Grecanica | Traditions & Folklore | Costumes of Calabria | Traditions and Progress | A culture of skills | Art in Calabria | Archaelogy |
 

La Calabria fu per secoli terra di conquista da parte di molte popolazioni straniere, ognuna delle quali ha lasciato un'impronta indelebile negli usi e costumi della regione. Le tradizioni popolari ed il folklore rappresentano per la Calabria una grande ricchezza e mutano di zona in zona.

Una forte rilevanza assumono le manifestazioni folkloristiche nelle comunità albanesi insediatasi intorno a Castrovillari, Acquaformosa, San Basile, Spezzano, Firmo e Lungro. Qui si conservano ancora, la lingua, i costumi, gli usi e i riti della terra d'origine. A San Cosmo Albanese, per esempio, la festa patronale ha delle caratteristiche albanesi, come il rito nuziale impostato sul ratto della sposa, sull' "iconastasi", la passeggiata in cerchio di tutto il corteo per tre volte intorno all'altare. Inoltre le rappresentazioni ripercorrono l'esodo che queste popolazioni hanno intrapreso secoli addietro ed esaltano l'eroe nazionale Scanderberg. Un'altra piccola minoranza linguistica, con tradizioni e costumi propri, si trova a Guardia Piemontese. Essa venne fondata da gruppi di esuli piemontesi di religione valdese, venuti dalle valli Pellice e Angrogna intorno al 1200, per sfuggire alle persecuzioni del Medioevo. Nella provincia di Reggio Calabria si conservano ancora usi e costumi del mondo greco nella comunità cosiddetta "grecanica" di Gallicianò, Roghudi, Bova, Roccaforte del Greco e Palizzi, dove si svolgono festival dedicati alla Magna Grecia. Queste tre isole linguistiche conservano antiche tradizioni nella produzione artigianale, nei riti religiosi e nelle sagre.

Molte manifestazioni sono legate alla religione: da segnalare i riti della Settimana Santa quali quello dei Vattienti a Nocera Terinese e dell'Affruntata nelle province di Vibo Valentia e Reggio Calabria. Particolarmente suggestive sono le Feste in onore dei Santi Cosmo e Damiano a Drapia in provincia di Vibo Valentia e le celebrazioni in onore della Madonna nei centri costieri, dove si svolgono numerose processioni al mare. Da menzionare è quella di Capo Colonna, nel mese di maggio, con processione notturna dalla Cattedrale al Santuario di Capo Colonna a Crotone. Anche il Carnevale riveste in Calabria un ruolo molto importante, con recite, sfilate di carri allegorici e di antichi costumi che richiamano alle antiche usanze greche e latine. Molte farse rappresentano il personaggio di Carnevale come un ammalato in agonia, attorno al quale si muovono dottori in atteggiamenti buffi.

La maschera tipica calabrese è quella di Giangurgolo, un personaggio risalente al sei-settecento. A rievocare un glorioso medioevo in Calabria è invece il Palio di Ribusa a Stilo, che viene disputato dagli arcieri, dai balestrieri e dai cavalieri in rappresentanza degli antichi casali di Camini, Guardavalle, Pazzano, Riace e Stignano e della contea di Stilo, con gare di tiro con l'arco. Al vincitore viene assegnato il palio dipinto a mano da un artista locale.

Nel centro storico di Vibo Valentia si svolge invece il Palio di Diana, che con gare tra cavalieri e spettacoli di giullari e giocolieri permette alla città di rivivere un ritorno al passato. Numerose sono le sagre dei prodotti tipici locali, come quella della 'nduja a Spilinga, della cipolla rossa a Tropea, del vino, delle castagne e dei funghi. Particolarmente significativa la Festa dell'Emigrante, che si svolge in molte località calabresi per celebrare il ritorno dei molti corregionali residenti all'estero e in tutta Italia.

Durante queste manifestazioni trovano spazio i vari spettacoli organizzati dai gruppi folkloristici della regione, i quali componenti si esibiscono in canti e balli popolari. La danza che meglio rappresenta lo spirito gioioso e festoso dei calabresi è la tarantella, che si balla in gruppi e in coppia come danza di corteggiamento. Gli strumenti musicali utilizzati sono il tamburello, la fisarmonica e l'organetto.
 
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