Aristocrats, Saints & Pyromaniacs

June 3, 2012

It’s the annual insanity that Sicilians call festa.

The village aristocrats overlook the piazza from the comfort of their balconi, watching us wait for San Giorgio the Dragon Slayer.

Festa di San Giorgio, people watching from balcony; copyright Jann Huizenga

Inside the church, the young men chew their fingers, get pep talks from the old guys, and send up lionesque roars. This is how they get psyched up to haul Saint George and his rearing steed around town on their shoulders.

Festa di San Giorgio in Ragusa Ibla; copyright Jann Huizenga

The frisky altar boys horse around.

Altar Boys in Sicily; copyright Jann Huizenga

Then with a roar, my dragon-slayer is hoisted into the evening air amid wild applause, tears, and a squall of confetti. Even I–a non-Catholic who barely knows one saint from another–have a pounding heart. (Saint George belongs to me!)

San Giorgio in Ragusa Ibla, Sicily; copyright Jann Huizenga

He prances around town for a while and then the pyromaniacs get to work.

Duomo di San Giorgio in Ragusa Ibla; copyright Jann Huizenga

They light the fuses for the gran finale con artistico e fantasmagorico spettacolo piromusicale. Balconies are jammed with people and kids are stacked on top of parents and grandparents. The whole village feels like it’s blowing up.
Duomo di San Giorgio in Ragusa Ibla at Festa; copyright Jann Huizenga

Cinders land in your hair and singe your arms; babies wail in fright. You stumble out of the piazza choking on the thick stench of gunpowder, rush home thinking “Sicilians are nuts!” and watch the rest of the show from the relative safety of your house.

Duomo di San Giorgio in Ragusa Ibla; copyright Jann Huizenga

The next day they’re at it again.

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27 comments to Aristocrats, Saints & Pyromaniacs

  • Anitre

    Sorry we missed the action. Amazing photos!

  • Nancy

    Jann, my grandparents were from Montalbano Elicona in the Messina Province. I’ve been there several times and I love it. Yes, someday I will get there for the August festival.

  • This looks like a lot of fun! It might be wise to watch it from a distance, but where’s the fun in that? 🙂

    • Jann

      Ivana–it’s true that part of the fun is the fear factor but I can only stand to getting hot ash on me for a few minutes. Then it’s time to run for my life!

  • Jann, these gorgeous photos took us through the phases leading to the fireworks! Oh my! What excitement, vivacity, and sheer fun! How lucky you are to be a part of something so spectacular. I think that like Kim, I would watch from afar. The aristocrats balcony, perhaps? hee hee! Much as I love fireworks, I would hate for my Lion King many to get singed! ha! I’ve tweeted your post, friend! Thank you so much for adding your link to these magnificent captures! 🙂

    • Jann

      Bella, thanks so much for the tweet! So kind. Yes, watching from an aristocrat balcony would be quite fine, and then you can pop inside for a glass of champagne if the fireworks get too hot.

  • vicki carol

    Every shot was exciting revealing the mood of the Festa. Each told us a story. The young men, in church, anticipating the responsibility of carrying the SAINT on his shoulders, the choir boys making ready with such stylish glasses and innocent faces, and the fireworks were more dazzling than Disneyland at sunset(which go off every evening at 9:30pm). I especially loved the last shot with the Church in the middle of the excitement, as it is in every Catholic’s life. ABSOLUTELY GREAT PHOTOS

    • Jann

      Vicki, you’re so sweet. Thank you for your enthusiasm! You’re so right–the church is in the middle of everything here!

  • Charlie

    tradition is a great thing. Glad you enjoyed it Jann. Great photos!

  • —Superb photos, Jann, but I’d watch this celebration from a distance, too.

    btw, the Italian boy w/ the earring is quite lovley. OOo La La. xx

    • Jann

      Kim, re the boy with the earring: somehow he was like a magnet for my camera (not my fault!)

  • Love these Italian customs and the sense of community and pride that they promote. I enjoyed the processions during Easter vacation in beautiful Ragusa Ibla. What a gorgeous place to live. Your close-up photos of the people of the town are fantastic.

    • Jann

      Nora, how great that you were here during Easter! Welcome to the blog, thanks so much for commenting, and I love your blog, too. What an obvious passion you have for the country.

  • Nancy

    Love it. I hope to someday be able to witness one of these festivals for myself.The one in my grandparents village is the end of August.

  • Love the altar boys Jann! How wonderful!!! We Catholics know how to put on a good spectacle, that’s for sure ;-). Especially in Sicily by the look of your wonderful post! Baci! xxx

    • Jann

      Yes, Janine–Catholics put on a good show, and Italians put on a good show, so the combination is pretty spectacular. And Italians–along with the Chinese I believe–invented fireworks, didn’t they?

  • John Schinina

    Hi Jann, Like they say in Jersey,”Furgetabotit”. Enjoy the Festa, wish I was there.

  • Fabulous pictures and commentary Jann – you really captured the essence of the festa spirit!

  • I love the feste in Sicily and this looks like a great one.

    • Jann

      Catherine–I’ve been trying for years to get to a festa in Noto, but haven’t made it yet. I know you have wonderful ones too.

  • John Ferguson

    I’m a little too old to carry Saint George around Jann but I’m happy to light the fireworks next year! Great images, thanks for sharing them with everyone. Love the colors you captured and the candid shots. The fireworks must have been spectacular.

    • Jann

      John, I’m sure you’d make a great pyromaniac–especially after imbibing a little vino rosso!

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