The great historian Ernest Renan described Assisi, Italy in eloquent words, “The profusion of art overcomes any imagination. Exteriors, interiors, doors windows, house-chimneys, everything is painted and sculptured”. Italy’s repertoire of festivals takes you to Assisi to enjoy the festival of the Calendimaggio or the Celebration of the Holy Week. Held in celebration of the life of St. Francis, this festival as part of its festivities takes you through a painted city right up to the door of its patron saint, Saint Francis, at the Centro di Assisi, Italy. Donning the robe of the ‘Poverello di Dio’ to look after the beggars and the lepers, young Francis risked his life to preach the Word of God, renouncing his inheritance in a public display in front of Bishop Guido and his fellow citizens.
Italy takes you on a solemn journey to admire its religious yet beatific Franciscan symbols, statues, altars, and white and pink stone edifices. Offering the gamut of festivals, both great and small, Assisi guides through a kaleidoscope of folklore and primitive traditions transformed over the ages to its present celebrated status. The Roman goddesses Maia and Flora were revered as the return of spring. This joyous celebration was turned into the Kalende di Maggio of the Middle Ages, with young girls singing and dancing through the streets and the square. Celebrated by the Celts originally, the Calendimaggio festival started at the beginning of summer when they took their sheep for grazing for a period of six months. This was celebrated by banquets, bonfires, songs, and dances at the top of the hill. This primitive custom was believed to bring prosperity and protection. They even had a symbol of the maypole. Evolving over civilizations and culture, this pagan festival of the Calendimaggio is re-enacted in Assisi, Italy, on the eve of May Day. Celebrated with a medieval procession and a torch-lit parade with the entire town decorated with banners of silk, the citizens of Assisi, Italy, enjoy their traditional cuisine with ‘porchetta’ the roast suckling pig.
Dedicated to Saint Francis, the Calendimaggio festival is celebrated on the first Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of May every year. The flower-patterned streets are open to the public and the tourists with the citizens dressed in a colorful range of period costumes. The celebrations include competitions with love songs, games, and events. The festival leads to the prestigious Palio, which is contested by two groups for a valuable prize. They are the ‘Magnifica Parte de Sotto and the ‘Nobilissima Parte de Sopra,’ the two districts which form the city. This event mirrors the rivalry of the 1300s between the Fiumi and the Nepis families for supremacy, which ranged over a period of enmity for two centuries. A jury of historians, directors, and musicologists make up the board of judges and award the Calendimaggio festival’s prize to the district, which displays and interprets the essence of the return of spring with the best love songs, costumes, races, and games.