Tag Archives: La Vara

Mario’s Special Holiday

Children’s Story Written by Grazia Martienssen

Good day children, Flyer the seagull here, let me tell you about…

August in Italy:
In August it is summer in Italy, and extremely hot. Mario and his family live in Taormina, a hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily. Today is the 15th of August, which is a special holiday called Ferragosto, and is named after the Roman emperor Feriae Augusti who ruled even before Jesus was born.

Ferragosto is also the day that Mother Mary went to heaven, and is celebrated on the same day. Like most Italians, Mario’s family is catholic and believes that Mother Mary was taken into heaven, body and soul.

Do you have any special holiday you enjoy with your family?
Do you know the history behind your special holiday?

La Vara

Celebrations:
Mario’s parents run a small business from home and it will be closed for 2 weeks over Ferragosto. Some friends and relatives join them for the big festivities on the 15th, others work in supermarkets, so have to work half day before joining them.

At 10am Mario goes to Mass with his family and there is a special procession through the streets of Taormina. It is the celebration of la Vara which started in the first half of the 1500s.

La Vara is a large pyramid-shaped structure that symbolizes the assumption of Mary into heaven. The base is the tomb of Mary with the apostles around it. On top, there are statues of Jesus, angels, the sun, the moon and a starry globe.

It is carried by the faithful dressed in blue, in honour of the Madonna (Mary). It is moved by pulling ropes which have been blessed and are later cut into small pieces and given out to the people.

They all go to Giovanni’s house, where the women prepare pasta al forno (pasta bake) while the men braai the meat for the second course. Some of his cousins have come from north Italy where they eat different varieties of food. They tell him about their dishes, but they also enjoy the pasta and meat.

Do you go to church with your family?
If so, which church do you go to?
What special celebrations do you enjoy?

Palio Del Assunta

They go have a picnic up the mountain overlooking a beautiful view of the sea. There are lots of people as everyone is at the sea or the mountains.

At their picnic, Mario met some tourists from England. The next day his parents took them to a museum, where there is air conditioning. With this excuse, they learned a bit about the history of Italy.

In full Italian spirit, Mario’s parent’s offered to take the tourists to Siena in north Italy by train the next day.
This special trip involves a famous horse race called the Palio Del Assunta, which takes place at the central piazza (square).

On the way there the older relatives explain that as they were poor in their younger days, their parents used to take advantage of the cheap holidays and train travel organized on a large scale by the government in the 1920s.

Have you ever travelled by train?
If yes, where did you go?
Did you enjoy the ride?

Horse ride:
In Siena they book at a guest house run by one of dad’s friends. Nonno (grandfather) knows some of the horse owners. He speaks to them and arranges for the children to go on a short horse ride in the evening when it’s cooler. The children enjoy the ride and take lots of photos and videos to remember the special occasion.

Have you ever been on a horse?