The idea for this series of interviews was born on one of the main Sicilian holidays, the day of Saint Lucia, martyr of Syracuse, who suffered from the pagan emperor Diocletian at the beginning of the 4th century, before the church split, that is, this is a holy feast for all Christians in the world, which came from Syracuse. And this holiday has made its contribution to the tradition of celebrating Christmas, as well as the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6/19 according to the Eastern Orthodox calendar. Sicilians, like no other, remember their history and their people all the time.
Saint Lucia was only twenty-one years old, she was an innocent girl, and all her fault was that she knew the love of God and called herself a Christian. At that time, there were harsh persecutions against Christians, they were tortured and killed, this is widely described in the Tradition.
Saint Lucia thus connects people around the world and across generations. Syracuse is a Sicilian city, and all the Sicilian people venerate the saint. They intensely pray to her not only in Sicily but also in Sweden and Norway, for example, where a special procession is organized in honour of the saint. Let me remind you that this is December 13th and Christmas is approaching.
It is known that the saint prays for the inhabitants of Sicily, she saved the Sicilians from hunger in the seventeenth century, when the wheat was infected with a disease. The Sicilians prayed to the saint and a ship with clean grain sailed off to the hungry. And people just boiled this whole grain and poured oil on it, they were too emaciated to grind the grain and bake bread. This is the origin of the tradition of serving "cutia" in Russian and "cucсia" in Italian before Christmas, a great symbol of the germ of life in wheat.
This is how the meanings of Russian and Sicilian customs are closely and unexpectedly connected.
Saint Lucia lived and suffered in Syracuse. And her name means "Light", hence the name Svetlana, Fotinia. According to the legend, in the torture, she was deprived of sight, so people pray to her for the healing of the eyes, but what is much more important - she brings the light, the joy of the inner sight, the enlightenment of God, the strength of the mind, enlightened by the faith and grace of God.
And today we begin a series of interviews with Nicolo 'Reina, the officer of the Custonaci tourist office in Sicily, an expert in all local customs.
Why are we doing an important undertaking now and why are these interviews with Nicolo 'important? As people are tired of the problems of living in the city, they seek a reunion with nature. And many eyes are turned to Sicily, because it is the brightest and most beautiful place if you are looking for life in close contact with nature, with natural biorhythms, something close to how the ancient saints lived. This is the simplicity of friendly communication amongst fertile nature in a warm climate, where the ancient saints lived in monasteries and, possibly, in caves, we will talk about it separately.
I predict that Sicily will soon become a place of pilgrimage for many, many people. You can call it agritourism, ecological tourism, psychological tourism, as you prefer. But it is important that this is the land of ancient saints, clean in a spiritual and ecological sense, awaiting recognition as such, like no other in the world. Sicily, the heart-shaped island of saints, calls its people.
And it is better to ask the residents about Sicily, experts in all the characteristics of this land and its life, such as Nicolò Reina, who maintains the tourist office to tell about this land. And I must say that the tourist office in Custonaci is one of the best in Italy. Nicolo 'is very helpful, hospitable and knowledgeable.
And you, our dear readers and listeners, tourists and pilgrims, now know that there is no need to ask random people who have only been in Sicily for a short time, you should ask everything in the appropriate offices. So let's ask Nicolo '.
- Nicolo ', I know that in the day of Saint Lucia there is the custom of cooking arancini - this is a great dish of the famous Sicilian tradition, some tourists come specifically to eat it. It is made with rice and stuffing and has a bright orange colour. Obviously, this is a tribute to the memory of Saint Lucia. But could you tell us a little more about the local custom of preparing this dish?
- Thank you, Elena, for the opportunity to talk about our customs. Arancini look like oranges, but they are rice oranges with minced meat. I think this is one of the most striking folk symbols of Sicily and its prosperity. This dish has always amazed tourists as far as I can see.
They take something that looks like an orange and Sicily is full with oranges, and when they take a bite of arancina, they discover to their amazement that there is so much juicy filling there that it is uniquely tasty ... And we Sicilians always rejoice with all our hearts when we see this expression on the faces of our guests. Hospitality and wishing the joy of others are our national characteristic.
- How differently do local masters prepare this dish, are there any differences?
- In western Sicily, this dish is called arancina, in eastern Sicily - arancino. The bright colour of the rice is given by the addition of saffron, as in Palermo and Catania, or tomato juice, as in Messina. The filling of arancini is made up of various combinations of meat, ham, mozzarella, spinach, tomato sauce. The arancini are round or cone-shaped and fried in oil. But I think the special taste of arancini has to do with people's attitude when they make them. In Sicily, we make things with our hands a lot, singing and in a cheerful good mood, and we also serve the dish to people with a smile and a greeting.
- Attitude is very valuable. How is the custom of maintaining values over generations seen through the eyes of local residents? Please tell us how the whole holiday is going.
- Our grandmothers, preparing for the party and serving arancini and cuccia made of whole grains to eat, said: "Susiti Susiti viniti". I never eat bread on this day for the reverence of the saint, I only eat somewhat made of whole grains. Of course, this is a family celebration, and this is a house holiday, in a broad sense, a celebration of the community and of our land.
Sicily often hosts festivals dedicated to the ancient patron saints of our cities. These saints lived when the church was one. Sicily was strongly influenced by the Byzantine Orthodox religious culture, the eastern part of the Roman Empire, where sincerity and wise kindness were appreciated rather than outward education. And this simplicity of communication, sincerity has been preserved in Sicily, I believe, as in no other part of the world.
The festivities in Sicily are always colourful, with the use of costumes and scenes from the lives of saints, we sing and play musical instruments, our patron saints are always with us, even if placed on a pedestal for their value. We pass on stories to children in the form of theatrical representations of puppets, this is our tradition, which also affects adults. It probably originated when a little more could be said with the help of puppets than with normal words. On the feast of Saint Lucia, we make a procession.
There is a village in Custonaci called Santa Lucia. The festive procession dedicated to Saint Lucia begins in this village, we all walk together. And also every year there is a procession from the main sanctuary of Custonaci, there is a chapel dedicated to Saint Lucia, and we pray together. Also, we sing and move with music together during the celebration. And in the evening we distribute arancini and cuccia to people around.
There is a spirit of unity and friendly acceptance like it was the case in the early Christians, the warmth of brotherhood and there is no winter cold. We openly share what we have. Often during the holidays, the masters prepare their dishes openly, in front of the public, and even somehow conduct master classes, you can ask any questions. This is the real gem that attracts people to Sicily: not just delicious food shared with others, but the spirit of a friendly welcome and universal participation.
- Just think, Sicilians have handed down traditions and recipes for centuries, sharing and maintaining a spirit of participation. Indeed, this reveals the character of the Sicilians, their sincerity, firmness and dedication to their values. And how does the holiday look like in the eyes of tourists? How many tourists are there on these days, what kind of people are they? What are they doing, and what conditions they find, maybe conditions are favourable for tourists on these festive days?
- Sicily is beautiful at any time of the year, in my opinion. The festivities take place all year round, the climate is warm. If you come here in winter, then throughout December, January and February you will not be bored. Tourists always feel at home in Sicily, they enter our atmosphere of warmth and compassion. Holiday dates change often and it is therefore important to be in contact with us to clarify the dates.
In addition to the Christmas holidays in December, it can be noted that numerous fairs and gastronomic festivals with tastings take place throughout the year in Sicily. It is truly a paradise for lovers of agritourism and ecotourism. And even for those who want to rest the soul, psychological tourism of this type is gaining momentum. And this, of course, is always great shopping, with the ability to inspect, feel with your hands, try, talk about the product.
Often, our handcrafted products are clothing, decorations and jewellery, accessories, shoes, small interior items, chocolate, cheese, our fine spices, wine, olives and oil, to name a few. The Modica Chocolate Festival takes place at the beginning of December, it is unique, unforgettable chocolate different from anything else, because the way it is made is very different from all the others.
A carnival is held in February, which is interesting for both children and adults. I think this holiday is a symbol of the expectation of a new spring and the return of the colours of life. Also, February in Sicily is a great time to enjoy pomegranates, melons, almonds and mandarancho. For example, Agrigento hosts an almond festival. As always, these are light processions, unity, exhibitions of works of art, sincere communication.
Since the almond festival is a foretaste of spring, the Miss Spring contest is held at this time, our beautiful girls inspire us to new creative ideas. At Sicilian carnivals, not so much candies are thrown as drinks and sweets, even sausages. And at the February carnival a papier-mâché effigy is burned, probably a symbol of the winter cold leaving. And it's always live music and fireworks in the evening.
- Holidays in Sicily are holidays of generosity, I see. And many of the Russian folk traditions seem to come from the same source as the festivities in Sicily, it's very interesting. And I also wondered if the tradition of lighting candles came from the tradition of celebrating Saint Lucia, whose name is Light. Thank you very much, Nicolò, we hope for your other stories about life in Sicily.
- Thanks for your questions, I'll be happy to tell you more.
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