The Bonfires of the Feast of San Giuseppe in Itri
Each 19th March, around the time of the vernal equinox, an ancient auspicious tradition of building bonfires is celebrated in Itri. The Fuochi di San Giuseppe mark the closing days of Winter, the welcoming of Spring and the hope for a good year’s harvest. Originally before the Middle Ages this was a Pagan ritual to scare away bad spirits, however it was later adapted into a Christian festival to correspond with the feast of St Joseph, or San Giuseppe the Patron Saint of Carpenters and woodworkers. In Italy this day is also celebrated as Fathers Day.
In the days leading up to this festival large piles of branches, donated by the local Forestry, are heaped in the squares of ten districts of Itri, both in the higher and lower quarters of the town. These are: Madonna delle Grazie, Lago, Lo Straccio, La Piazza, Porta Mamurra, San Martino – Largo Staurenghi, La Tarita, San Gennaro Basso – Largo dei Campi, San Gennaro Alto – Largo Sinapi, and Piazzale Rodali – Scuole Vecchie.
On the evening of the 19th March people gather around the prepared bonfires. The evening is also known as la Notte dei Falò. Often the bonfires are erected surprisingly close to local buildings. Typically an effigy, rather like a Guy, is placed at the top of each of the bonfires. The burning of this figure represents the end of the long dark winter months. At 8pm a thunderous firework is detonated to signal the moment for the simultaneous lighting of the bonfires across the town. The fires soon take hold sending sparks swirling into the night sky. Soon Itri is aglow and the smell of wood smoke fills the air.
There are several stalls set up around the town providing local delicacies such as Bruschetta, grilled Itri Sausages served with Scarola, Pork Rind with Beans, Pasta e Fagiole, Chickpeas, Olives and Olive Oil and Marzolino cheese.
Also there are colourful street entertainers, traditional folk groups and dancers dressed in the traditional local costume.