Monday, 22 December 2014

Caltagirone Nativity Scenes and Sicilian Christmas Cookies!

Buona sera a tutti! I hope that you are all well and enjoying the run up to the Christmas festivities! In Sicily, preparations are well underway for the traditional Nativity scenes that appear across the island in the month of December.

One city in particular that attracts thousands of visitors each year to its Nativity displays is Caltagirone. This Baroque town in the province of Catania has long been famous for its beautiful pottery, in particular its ceramics and terracotta, and actually takes its name from the Arabic words for 'Hill of Vases'. The city's main landmark is the staircase of Santa Maria del Monte which was built in 1608 in the old section of the town. Each of the staircase's 142 steps is adorned with different hand-decorated ceramics using varying styles and figures from the town's ancient tradition of pottery making. To celebrate Caltagirone's Patron Saint 'San Giacomo', or St. James, on the 25th July the steps are lined with terracotta oil lamps which are lit simultaneously by hundreds of locals creating a spectacular effect.

For the month of December the town comes alive with beautiful Nativity scenes made entirely of terracotta which are displayed throughout Caltagirone. Some residents even open their homes to show their own intricate displays. One fine example of a Nativity scene is 'Il Presepe Animato in Terracotta' which can be found in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine. This Nativity display features moving figures and extends over 80 square metres - the largest in Italy. On the 25th and 26th December and the 6th January there will be a 'live' Nativity scene in the town's historic centre featuring more than 200 local residents dressed in costume.

Throughout the month of December there will be Christmas markets and processions in the town such as that on the 'Festa dell'Immacolata' on the 8th December. For the two days prior to this feast day there is a delicious aroma throughout the town as bakeries sell the traditional 'muffulette' - a local bread made with fennel seeds.

Have a wonderful Christmas everyone - Buon Natale! I hope that all of you across the world are beginning to feel the festive spirit. Don't forget to use our recipe for Sicilian Christmas Cookies, or 'Mastazzoli' at -

A presto!


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Friday, 24 October 2014

The Ghostly Bridal Party of Cammarata

Buongiorno a tutti! I hope that you all had a wonderful Summer and are enjoying the beautiful Autumn colours that now surround us. The dark nights are drawing in and there is a distinct chill in the air which means the time has come again for me to write my Halloween blog - one of the blogs which I enjoy writing the most! This year I have a wonderfully spooky tale to tell; a tale which will take you deep into the heart of Sicily and to a time long ago - a time of noblemen and of tradition. Enjoy!

Deep in the woods of Cammarata, in the province of Agrigento, lies a lonely castle with a noble past. The imposing, picturesque castle lies in a beautiful location but the mystical woods that surround it have long believed to be haunted. The horror of the events that happened there makes a sad, romantic and tragic story.

Hundreds of years ago the Baron of Cammarata had a very beautiful daughter named Elisabetta, whom he adored. She was to marry a nobleman of rank and fortune. But, unfortunately, the bridegroom was the Baron's choice. He had forbidden Elisabetta to meet again the man she truly loved.

Despite all her tearful protests, Elisabetta was married in the castle chapel by the Priest of Cammarata. Afterwards the full bridal party set out to 'ride the bounds' - that was to ride in procession around the entire boundary of the estate, as tradition demanded. On their return to the castle, a magnificent banquet would be held in their honour.

Elisabetta's lover had heard of this, and with a party of his friends, he was waiting in ambush in a little wood nearby. His plan was to launch a surprise attack, rescue Elisabetta, and then they would make their escape together.

Back at the castle the feast was prepared and servants and minstrels waited with the Baron in the Great Hall to greet and serve the guests. Many hours passed without their return. The increasingly anxious Baron sent out men to search, but they could find no trace of the missing party. At last the servants were dismissed to bed, and only the Baron was left to keep a lonely vigil in the dimly lit Hall.

On the stroke of midnight he awoke from dozing to the sound of the castle drawbridge being lowered, and noises of horsemen in the courtyard. Almost in the same instance the bridal party filed silently into the Hall, and in the dead quiet took their places at the table. No-one spoke, not a single word.

Gazing in puzzlement at his guests, the Baron began to realise to his horror that the white and frozen faces of his daughter and friends belonged to their ghosts.With a terrible scream he fell to the floor in a faint, and as he did, the 'ghostly bridal party' vanished from sight.

According to the story, the poor Baron never recovered his speech, and remained paralysed for the rest of his life.

It was believed that when the bridal party was ambushed, a terrible fight had taken place, Elisabetta herself being accidently killed in the general confusion. No one survived the slaughter, and the blood from the dreadful carnage flowed into a hollow stone, which is known to this day as 'The Raven's Stone'.

Every year on the anniversary of the tragedy, the ghostly bridal party rides again through the woods near the castle. It is said that the sound of hoof-beats and the jingling of harness can be heard clearly. Strangely, although time has altered the landscape, the riders keep to their original route, passing straight through any walls or fences that now bar their way.

Have a wonderful Halloween .... and be sure to listen out for the sound of hooves and of jingling harnesses!

A presto,

Debra Santangelo

If you enjoy reading my blog please become a follower by registering at the Google 'join this site' icon at the right of this blog page. Grazie mille for your support!

Friday, 7 February 2014

69th Annual Almond Blossom Festival - Agrigento

Buongiorno a tutti! I hope that you all had a wonderful Christmas and New Year wherever you are in the world. Here at Sicilian Connections we thoroughly enjoyed the festive period but are very happy  to see the evenings become lighter and the early appearance of the Spring sunshine! This also means that it is again time for the wonderful 'Sagra del Mandorlo in Fiore', or the Almond Blossom Festival of Agrigento.

This year will be the 69th edition of the International Festival and will take place from the 8th February to the 16th March. The annual festival takes place in the majestic Sicilian city of Agrigento and celebrates the first almond blossoms of the season - one of the earliest visible signs that Spring is coming. The city will come alive with colourful folk dancers from around the world exhibiting their traditional costumes and dances for the gathered crowds. Local restaurants and bars in the area serve delicious almond dishes and vibrant processions take place throughout the town.

Enjoy this video taken from an Italian news programme which shows last year's festival highlights -

If you can't make it to the festival why not enjoy some almond and honey cookies, or 'Mastazzoli'. The recipe is on my Christmas blog post -

A presto,

Debra Santangelo

P.S. If you enjoy reading my blog please become a follower by registering at the Google 'Join this site' icon on the right of this blog page. Grazie mille for your support!