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Visiting Sicily, Italy, during Easter with the kids is a real treat as there are so many festivals and parades happening around the island. The only problem you will really have is deciding where to go.
Many of the festivals around Sicily date back hundreds of years and showcase the various cultures that have made the island their home. While Christmas is the big holiday for kids in many other Christian countries, Easter is more celebrated and there are more activities surrounding this holy occasion for all of Holy Week (Settimana Santa). This means different cities will have various activities throughout the week before Easter Sunday. The events are often very religious and steeped in traditions.
Sicily was ruled by the Spaniards for hundreds of years and many Spanish Catholic traditions continue to this day around the island. One tradition is the use of the capirote - white or colored conical hats used by the brotherhoods of various Churches. These hats are worn during processions and are used to hide the face of sinners as they repent. Traditionally, they were used to hide the faces of sinners who would self-flagellate as they begged for forgiveness during Holy Week. As an American these hats or covered ones “incappucciati” can give you a fright as they resemble a conical white hat that symbolises hate and racism in the US, so keep this in mind when explaining to the family and kids that these head and face coverings share nothing in common. The brotherhoods in Trapani recently stopped using these headcoverings; however, you can still find them in other places like the famous Easter festival in Enna.
Popular Sicilian Easter Festivals
Processione dei Misteri in Trapani (Province of Trapani)
This is one of the oldest continually running festivals in Italy. It’s over 400 years old and dates back to when Sicily was under Spanish control. It goes for an incredible 24 hours.
Processione dei Misteri - Caltanisetta (Province of Caltanisetta)
A beautiful week long dramatic representation of Easter.
Here is a program with English explanation detailing this year’s festival.
La Processione degli incappucciati- Enna
This is probably one of Sicily’s most photographed Easter celebrations as it has 16-17 fraternities represented. It is a solemn festival in which the “incappucciati” are silent as they walk the streets of Enna in a funeral procession in honor of Jesus Christ.
The program in English - Description of the festival in Italian.
My Favourite Sicilian Easter Festival
However, if you want to avoid the larger parades you can choose festivals in some of the smaller towns and villages in Sicily. I will be focusing on the small coastal town of Terrasini in the province of Palermo as it is close to my heart because it is my parents hometown. While I have a definite bias, the festival here is fun and more light-hearted than what you might find in other areas around Sicily. The town also has the traditional funeral procession and Easter masses as well as an amazing theatrical representation of the Passion of Christ, However, they also have a unique festival called Festa di li Schietti which literally translates as Festival of the Singles.
While the origins of the festival might not be as old as some others around Sicily, it makes up for it in fun, not just for the kids. Festa di li Schietti started out as a chance for young single men to show off their strength and catch the attention and love of the girls, by lifting up and balancing a fifty kilo bitter orange tree- on one hand! It can be tricky balancing the tree on the palm of your hand as it requires a lot of balance and strength. Many of the men that are able to hold it up for a long time have trained for the occasion. The man that can lift it up the longest wins. While initially the festival was for single men, these days all men in the village can participate. There is also a mini version of the festival, held the following day, for children to participate it.
The festival- the lifting of the tree competition (called the “la gara” in Italian) is held on Easter Sunday. However, activities start beforehand with the cutting of the tree early Saturday morning followed by a festive parade in the afternoon showing off the now beautifully decorated tree. The parade goes through the streets of Terrasini and consists of several groups of traditionally dressed dancers and bands, but my favourite are the traditional Sicilian carriages and decorated horses. The parade path goes all the way to Lungomare (road along the sea) where it is easy to catch a glimpse of all the excitement.
On Sunday, the tree is blessed in the morning by the church before being carried around the town under the balconies of the “Zita” meaning the fiance or hoped-for fiance. However, these days, this display is not limited to girlfriends but also other loved ones. The real competition starts in the afternoon, and is a real treat to participate in with the family and kids. The whole town comes down to the main piazza which has been decorated and set up for the festivities. This is where the real tree lifting begins. Music plays while each gentleman (who has registered) has a chance at lifting up the tree. Keep in mind that lifting up the tree means also a falling tree, so crowds move around accordingly.
While it is quite crowded, people are quite respectful, but keep your kids close as you will need to move around with the crowd.
This festival was also celebrated for many years in Detroit, Michigan where a large group of locals from Terrasini, Sicily, settled. Growing up during the height of the popularity of the festival in Detroit, we attended yearly. After talking about attending the festival in Terrasini for several years to my children, we were finally able to take them and they found the festival to be quite fun and exciting.
In addition to the festival, there are several restaurants, cafes and ice cream shops in and around the piazza, so you can really spend a lovely day enjoying the festivities.
Terrrasini is fantastic town year-round and is very popular in summer thanks to the great location near the sea and proximity to Palermo.
If you like Sicilian Carriages, like I do, visit the Sicilian Carriage Museum located in the Museo D'Aumale. You'll also find archaeological and natural science collections here.
Love beaches? Nearby, the sandy Magaggiari beach betwen Terrasini and Cinisi is a great kid-friendly spot.
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