Easter in Sicily is always a mixture of tradition and religion filled with rituals. There are endless customs that are played out each year from religious processions, ceremonies and food preparations which symbolize the promise of the Spring and hope of Easter.
Decorative palms announce the beginning of Easter week and Palm Sunday. In our small town, Sinagra and in many other Sicilian villages there is the blessing of the palms and olive branches, processions and religious services. After Easter many palms are taken to the cemetery to deceased relatives graves whilst the others are burned, the blessed ashes used the following year at the beginning of lent in the Ash Wednesday rite.
Before the arrival of chocolate Easter eggs, when life was simpler and perhaps some might say better, Sicilians gave specially decorated bread as an Easter gift. The ‘Cudduri’ as they are known in the dialect were lovingly prepared with two of the most precious and prestigious products of the rustic Sicilian kitchen. Eggs were hoarded days beforehand as the chickens would have been in hibernation from laying eggs in the cold of winter, they were been dyed with the roots of native plants to give them a special appearance.
With the passion of Christ on Good Friday, Churches around Sicily are bare, in mourning until the resurrection of Easter. There is no religious services as the ‘bread of the last supper’ is absent, no genuflection or sign of the cross. Today the only thing to do in Church is to bless your bay laurel leaves. This plant’s branches are taken into church, passed three times back and forth under the sparse alter and blessed by the blood of the crucifixion. During the year the leaves are used to make tea infusions that help relieve ailments of the stomach, as a calming drink and as a way of weaning babies off breast milk. A blessed plant that helps everyone.
‘The Diavolata of Good Friday is a mixture of the diabolic, as its name suggests, and of many other complex strands of history, exhibited by the pageantry of the costumes and the music, which is filled with both pagan and Christian energy. Good Friday is when Jesus is crucified and is considered a day of mourning for the church, but at San Fratello the characters of the Giudei, or the Jews, as they are known, turn the solemn funeral of Jesus into a macabre celebration, which mocks both Christ and those who condemned him to death.’
I never tire of visiting San Fratello for Good Friday, when the procession is interrupted by the colorful Giudei, irreverent masked characters which date back to the middle ages filled with confusion, music and fantasy.
Despite the town falling victim to a major landslide a few years ago which rendered half of the towns houses uninhabitable the celebration continues along the main streets despite the abandoned homes. The Giudei will continue for generations still as every little boy falls in love with this tradition.
Quote taken from my article: San Fratello: A home to devils and saints by Rochelle Del Borrello published in
Sweet Lemons 2: International writings with a Sicilian accent edited by Venera Fazio and Delia De Santis, 2010.