15th August in Calabria, between the sacred and the profane

Feasts, rituals and festivals of the Calabrian 15th August

© Regione Calabria

Tradition and folklore

Feb 15, 2024 4:08 PM

Midsummer festivals in Calabria are an experience of fun and conviviality not to be missed.

Whether one chooses the seaside or the mountains, 15th August in Calabria is synonymous with large tables in the company of family and friends who often return from faraway places of emigration: festivals and religious feasts, processions, concerts, bonfires and all that a welcoming region knows how to give its visitors.

Spend 15th August in Calabria, you too will be a guest in the family and not a tourist!

15th August festivals and popular celebrations in Calabria

The Calabrian 15th August is a whirlwind of popular and religious festivals, bursting with the traditional fireworks that end them late at night.

Many initiatives animate the liveliest week of the summer, from the north to the south of the region: barbecues, picnics and festivals of typical products, parades and re-enactments.

San Nicola Arcella
Regione Calabria

But what are the origins of 15th August, the most popular summer holiday? The historical significance seems to go back to a precise date, 18 B.C., when on the occasion of the Feriae Augusti the peasants could enjoy a break from work in the fields in honour of the Emperor Octavian Augustus. Apparently, at that time, the celebrations lasted throughout the month of August.

Today's sense is not so different: in Calabria, sea and mountains are populated by holidaymakers eager to unplug from the city and work. Any advice?

If you love getting lost amidst the bright colours and shouting of stalls and markets, don't miss the traditional 15th August fairs in Calabria. There is something for all tastes and in all provinces, from the one in Soverato, a Blue Flag town on the Catanzaro coast, to the mountain town of Serra San Bruno, in the province of Vibo Valentia, which celebrates 15th August with the Portosalvo Fair, in the seaside village.

Fairs and markets are linked to the religious celebrations in honour of Our Lady of the Assumption into Heaven, which is celebrated everywhere on 15 August, and are often accompanied by the evocative boat processions of the "Madonna a mare" that are widespread in many coastal localities in Calabria: from the aforementioned Soverato and Vibo Marina via Catanzaro Lido and the Lakes of Sibari to Cassano all'Ionio in the province of Cosenza (to name but a few of the most famous).

Regione Calabria

Another unmissable ingredient of 15th August in Calabria is food, declined in dozens of typical festivals with products from the sea and the mountains.

A "must" of the mid-August week in Calabria are the Stocco festivals in the province of Reggio Calabria, in Mammola and Cittanova (known as the "National Feast of Stocco"), respectively. Two localities that put the same product on the table, each with its own variations but both renowned for the excellent processing of stockfish, which is a true regional gastronomic brand in these parts.

Also in the Reggio Calabria area, along the Costa Viola, the Swordfish Festival is celebrated in the first week of August: this time we are in Bagnara Calabra, another sacred place for traditional Calabrian fishing.

Finally, don't miss the big summer festivals that criss-cross all the provinces with concerts, theatre festivals and outdoor performances in the region's most beautiful nature and archaeological parks.

The Assumption and Saint Rocco, from ritual to folklore

To the faithful and fans of religious and popular traditions, we recommend not to miss some of the most important 15th August Marian festivals in Calabria.

First in order of importance, being recognised as a UNESCO Intangible Heritage Site, is the evocative procession of the Varia di Palmi, in the province of Reggio di Calabria.

Borrowed from the more famous Varia di Messina, following the miraculous twinning that united the two cities at the time of the plague (1575), the Varia di Palmi stages one of the most sumptuous so-called "large shoulder machines" in the Mediterranean: a huge 16-metre high sacred chariot representing the universe and the Assumption into Heaven of the Virgin, carried on the shoulders of 200 bearers ('mbuttatùri), on top of which are tied tightly together small flesh-and-blood figurines, children who by vow represent the Madonna, the Father, the apostles and the angels.

Varia di Palmi
Regione Calabria

If the 15th is of the Madonna, the 16th is of Saint Rocco!

Venerated in Calabria, San Rocco is the protector of travellers as a pilgrim and thaumaturge in his own right.

This heartfelt devotion is manifested in many Calabrian localities, starting with Scilla and Gioiosa Ionica, both in the province of Reggio Calabria (one on the Tyrrhenian Costa Viola, the other along the Costa dei Gelsomini, on the Ionian).

Official iconography depicts him with a cloak, a stick and a faithful little dog, ready to help the simple people he meets along the way. Saint Rocco, much loved in Scilla, is honoured with a long night-time torchlight procession and a series of sacred and profane celebrations that continue for several days.

But it is in Gioiosa Ionica that devotion to Saint Rocco finds one of its most fascinating popular expressions. Here, the celebrations culminate in the traditional votive dance accompanied by the so-called "drums of Saint Rocco", an event that combines Mediterranean music, folklore and sacredness like few others.

Regione Calabria