March in Puglia: Carnival  and Easter are in the air

March in Puglia: the days are getting noticeably longer and the winter nip is already beginning to soften up. There’s a hint of festivity in the air as well as locals prepare for Carnival, which takes place the first week of March. Shopfronts are budding with colors, kids are picking out costumes, with ambitious parents even making their kids’ fanciful costumes themselves. Akin to Halloween, Carnival in Italy is celebrated with costume parties and even a mini school vacation thrown in the mix so children can attend local parades.

A Carnival parade in Salento, Southern Puglia.

For Italian Catholics, Carnevale, which culminates in Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, is a time of indulging in tasty treats and making merry before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Interestingly enough, the word “Carnevale” is derived from the Latin carnum levare, which means to “eliminate meat”, as Lent, for the observant, is a time of abstinence from meat, sweets and other earthly pleasures.

March in Puglia: typical Carnival Treats

In the meantime however, the party is on, and in Italy, this invariably centers around food. Southerners have a rather close-knit relationship with the deep fryer, so fried sweets are the order of the day for the spring months. In bakeries across the region you’ll find piles of decadent pastries like le zeppole di San Giuseppe, cruller-like doughnuts filled with pastry cream and topped with sour cherries or chocolate, chiacchiere, fried dough twists dusted with powdered sugar, and cartellate, rose-shaped fried dough made with orange juice and bathed in golden honey.

march in puglia traditions and cultural events

Le zeppole di San Giuseppe, a typical springtime pastry made for St. Joseph’s feast day on March 19th, which is also when Father’s Day is celebrated.

Honey-drenched cartellate, typical Apulian sweets during Christmas time as well as Carnival.

Crunchy chiacchieri, fried dough twists with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Aside from the glorious food, the upcoming weeks will be replete with traditions leading up to Easter Sunday, which falls on April 21stthis year. From the Salento “Easter witch” and elaborate processions of barefoot penitents to the lighthearted celebrations of Easter Monday, the oft-neglected spring months are rich with cultural goings-on that are not to be missed. Interested in checking them out for yourself? You’re still in time. Click here to save your spot on this April’s Easter Traditions tour in Puglia.

March in Puglia: Carnival and Easter Traditions

march in puglia carnival and easter

Here, Caremma watches over passersby from a gorgeous Baroque balcony in a small village in Salento, Puglia.

Taking a more in-depth look at several traditions on march in Puglia. In Salento, Italy’s “high-heel” peninsula, there’s what’s known as the Caremma, a straw puppet of an old woman dressed in black. She represents the “wife” of Carnival, and, like Santa Claus, can be seen perched atop balconies and roofs across the city once Carnival is over, her black robe signifying the “death” of Carnival and the start of the Lenten season. She holds a spindle in one hand, which represents the hard work needed to pay off her husband’s debts, and a bitter orange with seven feathers stuck inside in the other, representing suffering and the seven weeks of Lent, respectively. Week by week a feather is drawn from the orange, and at the stroke of midnight on Easter she is hung by a string and set aflame, in order to signify the end of the sacrifice and toil of the winter months and the start of an abundant spring season.

 

Easter Processions: A Must-Attend Cultural Event

Another Eastertime tradition is that of the Good Friday processione, a solemn march akin to a funeral procession through the streets of countless towns around Italy. Perhaps among the most elaborate and well-known are those held in Puglia. On Good Friday this year we’ll be heading to Taranto to experience the “Procession of Mysteries”, a truly dazzling procession in which members of the city’s historic confraternities don hooded robes and slowly inch their way, barefoot, through the streets of the Old Town. Accompanied by marching bands, crews of men carrying statues of religious icons, and a procession leader playing a handheld instrument called the troccola, the spectacle is all at once slightly eerie yet awe-inspiring. Interested in this once-in-a-lifetime event? Join us on our Easter tour around Puglia, where you’ll get to celebrate this holiday – and all of its cultural quirks – like an insider.

Hooded members of Taranto’s confraternities inch forward, barefoot, during the city’s Good Friday “Procession of Mysteries”.

 

And alas, no Italian Easter would be complete without the famed Easter Monday holiday, which is a big affair throughout Italy, perhaps even more so in Puglia. Pasquetta, or literally “little Easter”, is a day of frivolity and fun, when folks down south typically head to the countryside or the beach. While many young people flock to beach clubs for heart-pounding music and cocktails, the majority of people opt for a picnic lunch – usually consisting of the previous days’ leftovers – with family and friends.

Locals celebrate Lu Riu with picnics and music at Belloluogo Park in Lecce.

In Lecce and the surrounding towns they take it even one step further, by prolonging the festivities right on into “Easter Tuesday” for what’s known as Lu Riu in local dialect. This tradition dates back hundreds of years to the veneration of the Virgin of Loreto, whereby pilgrims would journey on foot to the namesake countryside church, just north of Lecce. Following church services, the faithful would then break for a communal picnic lunch in nature. Nowadays, those who are lucky enough to have the day off on Tuesday celebrate with a festive picnic at the park or the seaside, though the tradition lives on today thanks mainly to retirees in the villages around Lecce.

Our Newest Tour Offering: An In-Depth Journey into Puglia’s Jewish History

And last but certainly not least, we’re excited to announce a new addition to our cultural tour repertoire! We’ve recently teamed up with a local Jewish scholar and history buff and are pleased to announce the launch of our newest tour. Jewish Apulia: Discovering Southern Italy’s Jewish Heritage is an 8-day journey into the heart of Puglia’s most charming cities, including Lecce, Matera, Trani, Taranto and Otranto, to delve into Puglia’s Jewish roots and uncover the history of the Jewish communities that thrived here in the Middle Ages. Plentiful food, wine and a private Pugliese cooking class round out the tour to make for a truly unforgettable experience into the undiscovered charms of Puglia. For the full itinerary click here and to save your spot now, click here: Jewish Apulia: Discovering Southern Italy’s Jewish Heritage