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Thanks to a religious and historical figure, January 17th has been transformed for several years into a sort of animal festival. Just look how Saint Anthony is celebrated in the various regions of Italy, there is not one that does not dedicate an event to him and in their diversity the celebrations almost always have pets as protagonists, in addition to the saint himself.
Sant’Antonio and the animals
Before continuing, it should be immediately clarified that we are talking about Saint Anthony the Abbot, not Saint Anthony, patron saint of Padua. The story of this man is particular and it is perhaps for this reason that he is revered in Italy, his figure has a strong symbolic value. January 17 is the date of his death. Antonio was an Egyptian hermit who lived in the 4th century AD. This means that he chose the life of the Christian monk in due time and spent his entire life alone, isolated, to find a connection with God.
Not only in Italy but throughout Europe and in the Western world he is considered the protector of domestic animals, as well as the patron saint of breeders, butchers, farmers. Today between pets we think of cats and dogs and hamsters at most but at the time we thought of the pig. Antonio was very good at healing diseases with ointments, he was an excellent thaumaturge, and his followers obtained the fat from the pig to produce emollients and heal sores. Another legend about Sant'Antonio, but which has nothing to do with animals, concerns his ability to rediscover what has been lost. There is also the saying "Sant’Antoni with a white beard fam trua that ca but missing".
How to celebrate Saint Anthony, patron saint of animals
From North to South there are festivals and events, festivals and various types of activities. Among the most important and historically significant is the festival organized in Novoli, in Salento, the Focara. This event every year from 16 to 18 January attracts over 200 thousand people, includes several attractions but the main one, which also gives its name to the party, is a huge bonfire created with a pyre 25 meters high and 20 meters wide, made from 70 thousand beams of lives. There is a very precise ritual to follow to light it according to tradition and the show is truly impressive. Lombardy also honors this saint and there are many bonfires that are lit in the various villages in the Southwest of Milan but also in the various provinces of Como and Lodi. In Varese, a large pyre is made in Piazza Della Motta and the blessing of animals and the launch of balloons for elementary school children are held.
How to celebrate Sant’Antonio, towards Carnival
There are some traditions scattered around the peninsula that interpret St. Anthony's day as the beginning of the preparation of the Carnival and therefore propose celebrations that recall this feast.
In Abruzzo, in Fara Filiorum Petri (Ch), on the afternoon of January 16, a parade of farchie, cylindrical bundles of reeds tied with red willow branches, 7-9 meters high, one for each district, is organized, and then they are lights up in the square in front of the church of Sant'Antonio Abate. The best farchia in terms of aesthetics and size is also chosen. This tradition stems from the legend that in 1799 Saint Anthony stopped the French, who wanted to occupy Fara, by setting fire to the woods they were supposed to cross.
In Sardinia, in Mamoiada, in the province of Nuoro, many bonfires are lit in the various squares of the city and around them dance traditional masks of the Mamuthones and Issohadores. In the streets you can taste traditional dishes, such as the delicious sweet papassinu biancu and nigheddu and the coccone 'in mele (sweet bread with honey and saffron).
Let's go to Sicily, in the province of Enna, to Troina, where two festivals are held during the year in honor of Saint Anthony the Abbot, one in January and one in July. In January there is no shortage of traditional bonfires, the "pagghiara", to be admired while enjoying many typical delicacies.
Last stop, Campania. TO Macerata Campania (Ce) floats are prepared that parade through the streets of the town and with them the battuglia di pastellessa, a particular orchestra composed of about 50 percussionists who play barrels, vats and scythes, common tools of the earth. This is one of the most original Sant’Antonio Abate feasts in the peninsula, it is a millenary musical tradition that has brought the notes of a typical Sant’Antonio music up to now, which seems to have the power to drive out evil spirits. To preserve its essence and meaning, it is rigorously handed down and taught to children from father to son.
The other Sant’Antonio
There is another Sant’Antonio, equally respectable but who doesn't have much to do with these holidays. Let's get to know it in order to recognize it, in fact, and not get confused. He is the protector of the hungry and the poor and has the lily and the fish as symbols. He has Portuguese origins and his real name is Fernando di Bouillon which he converts into Antonio only after several travels and adventures, when he enters the hermitage of the Minors. After a year and a half in the hermitage of Montepaolo, in Italy he began to preach in Romagna and then in northern Italy. He died in Padua, in the convent of the Arcella. He leaves his mark with his sermons imbued with doctrine and refinement of style.