May Day Celebrations in Italy!

Happy Beltaine!  Blessed May!

One of the things that folks tend to forget is that Italy is part of Europe, southern Europe but still Europe.  That means that the standard 8 Sabbats that form the wheel of the year marking the changing and heights of seasons, also have their equivalent in Italy.

I found this fantastic post by the Society of Diana about MayDay celebrations in Italy.  I’ll provide the link to the original article but I also wanted to repost it here for those of you who don’t like to be bounced around. :-) I couldn’t get the videos to embed properly but the links will open them in a new window.




Embracing the Ancient (Cantamaggio ’13)

One of my motivations for blogging and speaking is to demonstrate that there is an unbroken, never forgotten, stream of ancient tradition which has survived throughout the ages, despite attempts from the outside to dry it up. This is evident in many cultures, not just in Italy, but there it is incredibly prevalent; What was barely under the surface is once more being celebrated openly and publicly, with less “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” and more joyfully embracing the traditions of our ancestors.

Today is Cantamaggio- The singing in of May. Tomorrow is Piantarmaggio- the Planting of May!

Cantamaggio Parade Float 1949 c.e.

It is only recently that Italians are coming out and saying “this is what the Pagans did to ensure fertility and a good crop for the summer.” Or at least, thanks to the internet, it’s been published more widely.
Here is a translation of the event listing for Cantamaggio 2013 in Terni:

Starting from April 26 to May 17, 2013 Terni is filled with colors.

The Cantamaggio Terni, traditional folk festival, which welcomes the arrival of summer, singing, songs, dances, floats and traveling shows, will open a season of cultural, musical, sport tourism, gastronomy and solidarity

The main new feature this year will be for a true return to tradition explains Homer Ferranti, president of Cantamaggio, the awarding of the winners will be held in chariots same night of the show and not, as in recent years, the day after .”

The mayor, Leopoldo Di Girolamo, says that this edition of Cantamaggio 2013 is especially notable for the active participation of many Terni school children and young people who will renew and continue a tradition that is inserted into modernity. A message of commitment and responsiblity, which belongs to the best civic experience of the people of Terni, a message of growth and innovation which is to be remembered even in the moment of the festival. “

I followed the event listing to a site which has pictures of parades and floats and entertainers. The pictures go back to 1948, the festival… no one remembers when it was started, it was always just done.
Here is an Italian blog with video, song lyrics and a local take on the festivities. The page has an English version.

Another website about the region has this at the top of its ‘What is Cantamaggio?” page:

The “Cantamaggio” is a festival celebrating the return of spring and the waking up of nature from the winter sleep; The origins of the manifestation seem to be relegated to pagan and tribal rites linked to countryside practices that intended to celebrate the return of the good season and in a certain way to thank the divinities for favorable summer harvest.

The actual “Cantamaggio” of Terni, in fact, has its roots in an antique city habit: groups of “maggiaioli” also called “maggianti”, which literal translation results to be “holders of May” (a flowering branch to which was suspended a luminous box) they were going from house to house singing “stornelli” and love songs; they were often receiving in exchange money or food and therefore they were planting the twig in land to wish good luck and fecundity.

Here is a short documentary on the subject from Italian director Gildo Giulianni:

The Cantamaggiois an ancient tradition in many parts of Italy. In some areas of Umbria is still very much felt. During the night between April 30 and May 1 of each year, groups of singers, made up of friends and relatives, gather to sing traditional songs around the streets of the country, stopping from house to house. In this documentary I followed some groups in their performances. The documentary aims to communicate the attachment to tradition and the way in which it adapts to the present day.

I’m not saying that Italians are about to chuck their saints, holy water and rosaries (all pagan in origin, by the way), I am just happy to see that, even when it’s for the purpose of generating tourism, towns in Italy are openly acknowledging and reclaiming their ancient heritage, even if they sanitize the sexuality in favor of flowers and singing to keep it “family friendly.” 
Evviva Cantamaggio!

Nusimo quilli che va a piandà Maggiu 
ce piace le velle donne e le fijole 
je purtimo le rose e le viole 
ma dopo lo sapimo nu se che ce vole 
E le Fate? 
Le Fate era proprio velle donne 
facia l’amore e pure che cos’atro 
Li preti dicìa sempre “ad’è peccato” 
facìa ‘rpijà a tutti le madonne

Cantamaggio Parade Float 2005

Leave a comment