Almost 30 years ago, the Carnival of Città Sant’Angelo was reborn, bringing together both young and old to celebrate the town’s ancient tradition.

Paola Ceresano is a well-respected figure in Città Sant’Angelo. Known as Maestra Paola, she worked as a primary teacher before retiring and has always been actively involved in the political and cultural life of the town. One day, while reading an old book, Paola discovered a story about ‘Ndirucce, a character behind the Carnival in Città Sant’Angelo in the early 1900s. “I thought it would be a good idea to revive the long-forgotten tradition and the Carnival of Città Sant’Angelo was reborn in 1993.”

What is a carnival?

The tradition of Il Carnevale in Abruzzo has ancient roots. The carnival period began from January 17 (Saint Anthony’s Feast Day) and continued until Ash Wednesday. It was a hedonistic celebration of excess before renouncing pleasure for Lent coming up to Easter, a continuation of pagan ceremonies marking the year’s end. “Anything goes at carnival time! Even the most obscene and excessive,” wrote Vittorio Monaco, an author who dedicated his life to studying Abruzzo’s traditions. “Overeating and euphoria followed by fasting and penance, when the sacred chased away the profane.” This was the time when overturning the established order was allowed and social status and roles were abolished.

Old and new

‘Ndirucce was a shoemaker, who in winter got together with his friends to listen to local anecdotes, gossip and stories and wrote ottavine, short satirical verses about local figures who misbehaved or, on the contrary, did admirable things during the year. During the Carnival season, ‘Ndirucce went around the town singing these verses. After his death, the much-loved tradition did not continue.

Since its first updated edition in 1993, the Carnival of ‘Ndirucce is an important part of local life. The event combines old folkloristic elements with a more modern addition of a costumed parade, which makes it truly special. “I decided to add il palio delle contrade, a competition between the town’s eight districts, because Città Sant’Angelo is spread out, with big distances between different neighbourhoods, from Villa Cipressi in the hills to La Marina on the coast — so I wanted to bring their teams together,” says Paola.

One of the things that hasn’t changed since the early 1900s is the spirited satire expressed in verses. Each district writes little poems in the town’s dialect, dialetto angolano, to tell true stories from their neighbourhood, criticizing or praising politicians and local figures. If someone from the local administration, for instance, takes too long to fix a stretch of a road, they risk being the subject of scathing poetry at the Carnival. Every year, the organisers choose a man to play ‘Ndirucce, who reads out loud the verses from the stage, just like the witty shoemaker did at the dawn of the 20th century. “It is a very important element of the event because it encourages the younger generations to learn our dialect and keep it alive,” says Paola Ceresano.

Getting ready

In October, Paola — as the president of the association Palio delle contrade, who is in charge of the Carnival’s organisation — decides on the theme for the following year’s costumed parade: comics, cinema, circus, Life is a Divine Comedy — it can be anything to inspire and ignite the teams’ imagination.

The preparations are long and involve a lot of work for the teams. In each district, no matter how small, at least 100 people are actively involved in preparations. The districts themselves are responsible for paying most of the expenses involved in the event’s organisation. The town hall, as well as the local supermarket, printers, and other businesses chip in and offer free services to help out, while local tailors and craftsmen volunteer their time to make costumes and floats. The organising committees spend long hours working on the logistics and choreography, assigning roles. During the last few weeks before the parade, the teams rehearse their performances and finalise the details. It is an event that involves and unites the whole community, and the excitement is palpable in the town coming up to the Carnival.

Two-day celebration

In February, for two days during the Carnival, Città Sant’Angelo becomes an open-air theatre, bursting with colours and sounds. On the last Sunday before Shrove Tuesday (Martedi Grasso) all the districts’ teams, dressed up in bright costumes, march along the long narrow streets of the historical centre, singing and dancing, towards the town’s oldest part called Casale. Flanked by cheering crowds of spectators, the parade arrives to the main square, where a podium is set up and the judges await to listen to the satirical verses and cast their first votes. “All respected figures in the world of arts and culture, the judges come from outside of town to guarantee impartiality and maximum objectivity in their verdict,” explains Paola Ceresano.

The parade repeats on Shrove Tuesday and during the Grand Finale, the judges finally announce which district’s team has won. The winner receives the prize, il palio, a painting by Enzo Carnemolla, a local artist of national fame, depicting Saint Michael, the patron of Città Sant’Angelo. “Il palio remains in the winning district for a year until the next competition. We do not have a money prize, but the pride and joy of being proclaimed the winner,” says Ceresano. There is a lot of excitement and good competitive spirit between the districts, with wins and losses passionately discussed long after the event is over. Thousands of people come from all over Abruzzo to see the Carnival in Città Sant’Angelo, and the number is growing every year.  

This year’s theme is “Weddings of all times and all worlds”. The celebrations will be held on February 19 and 21. See the full programme on the town’s tourism office Facebook page.

Photos courtesy of Visit Città Sant’Angelo/Facebook.

By Anna Lebedeva

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