Saint Joseph’s Day on 19th March is the first spring festival. It marks the end of winter and the beginning of the renewal phase. Fire and bonfires seal this moment. In many traditions and celebrations, fire is a symbol of purification, transformation and spiritual enlightenment; in religious festivities it emphasises the importance of an enlightened spiritual journey and inner purification. Moreover, fire can have a meaning of community and sharing. During St Joseph’s festivities, people gather around the fire to pray, sing and celebrate together.

Saint Joseph is celebrated in several locations in Sicily where traditional banquets dedicated to the Saint are often accompanied by fires and illuminations. The banquets also symbolise the opportunity of comforting the poor, of whom the Saint is patron, with warmth, food and ceremonial breads. Even today, in urban contexts, communities of citizens in various towns in Sicily and in the neighbourhoods of Palermo organise large bonfires as a sign of devotion to the Saint.

The wood collection takes place in the days and weeks before, then on 18 March, the woodpile is assembled and everything is organised to ensure a successful lighting. In the afternoon, young people take care of bringing pieces of wood to the squares of the neighbourhoods where it is usual to organise these bonfires. They pile up old tools, furniture, fruit boxes and anything else that can be useful for lighting these large fires. In rural areas and where also twigs and branches are available, they are used to light vampe. The construction of the woodpiles and the lighting of the bonfires are done by the most experienced young people and adults, both for the skill of the construction and the danger of the lighting. The success of the bonfire, its brightness and visibility within the neighbourhood, and its duration depend on the good assembly of the pile. Once the bonfires are lit on the night of 18th to 19th March, the crowd gathers around them, acclaiming the Saint, perhaps eating the typical food prepared for this festivity or throwing objects used as votive offerings or with a sacrificial function into the fire.


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