SAGRAS AND FESTAS
If you've been reading this blog lately, you've noticed that every week we're going to another 'festa' or 'sagra'. It's not too hard to figure out that these are local celebrations, but I thought I'd explain a bit more.
We use the terms sagra and festa interchangeably, but I think that they each signify a certain type of celebration. I think the festa is really a feast day or celebration of a saint, often the patron saint of the town, or maybe just a saint from the region - Umbria is teeming with homegrown saints - Francis, Clare, Benedict, Valentine, Rita, and more!
Sagras, on the other hand, are usually a celebration of a local food specialty - or at least that's the way it used to be! Yes, we still have the celebration of the local onions from Cannara, the black celery from Trevi, the porchetta from Costano, but we also have the celebration of Nutella, of tequilla and of crepes!
When we first arrived in Italy we thought these festas and sagras would be something like the good ole Catholic Church picnic, complete with games of chance, cake raffles and wine instead of beer. We quickly learned otherwise! First of all, local sagras and festas NEVER begin before 7:30 in the evening. The first time we came across an evening festa we assumed that on Saturday and Sundays the festivities would start around lunchtime and continue all day long, but no - 7:30 p.m. - it's almost carved in stone, just like the Italian lunch time of 1 o'clock.
Depending on the size of the festa and the size of the town, there may be travelling trucks selling a variety of goods - nuts, candy, useless plastic toys. More often than not though, the festa is simply local food cooked fresh on site by the local grandmas, then served by an army of teenage volunteers. There might be ticket sales for a raffle to be held at the end of the celebration, but it's pretty low-key. The point of a sagra or a festa is to get together with friends and family - to eat, talk and laugh, then after dinner to dance to a local band or DJ until midnight or later. Most Italians, including the kids, are up until midnight in the summer because it's just too darn hot to sleep before then. Not only is air conditioning a very rare commodity, most Italians would never dream of having a fan blowing directly on them at full blast like I do!
When we were newcomers it was fun to attend a local festa and peole watch to our hearts content. Once the (traditional) music starts the old people fill the dance floor, circling in unison with a waltz or some variation thereof. If the music happens to be more akin to rock and roll it's a different story - usually everyone just sits and watches! If the music isn't too radical some of the young adults might start a line dance, and eventually the floor will be one large group, stepping and turning as one to the music.
Now that we've been here a while we see people we know at the local festas. We can chat with the mayor or even run into the man we bought our house from! We watch the kids run around with such wild abandon, and marvel at how they've grown since we first met them. A few nights ago one local woman confided to me that we'd paid too much for our house - I told her that was probably always the case with foreigners, but that we'd been happy with the price and were glad we'd picked San Venanzo.
If you're ever in Italy, away from the hustle and bustle of the big city during the summer or fall, check out the local billboards to see if there might be a sagra or festa somewhere near you. Although you don't have to get there right at 7:30, be warned that the later the evening the longer the line, but the less time you'll have to wait for the evening's entertainment. Plan to order the special of the day, and plan to share with your friends so that you can sample a lot of different things.
There are also pictures of some typical foods we've eaten at local festas on our FLICKR PAGE in the folder named "Food in Umbria".