In Terrasini, Palermo, on Easter Sunday there is an event dedicated to the unmarried young men of the town. The event, called festa di li schietti (schietto means unmarried in Sicilian), aims to demonstrate the physical prowess of young men to women looking for husbands. In the town’s main square, young people compete to balance a melangolo, a bitter orange tree, on the palm of their hand for as long as possible. Nowadays, married men and teenagers also take part, with special competitions for them.

The day before the festival, on Holy Saturday, men from the Dubbitazione fraternity, which organises the festival, go to the countryside around the town to cut down the chosen tree, the protagonist of the competition. The tree is chosen from among several bitter orange trees recognised by the city as having thaumaturgic properties. The tree, a symbol of strength and life that becomes sacred when it is cut down, must have certain characteristics: it must weigh around fifty kilos, its trunk must be fairly straight and its foliage must be full and green. Immediately after the tree is felled, the brotherhood organises a manciata: a banquet and a moment of conviviality to bring about abundance. It’s a real food ritual, during which they feast on local products: kid goats killed for the occasion and sardines roasted on embers, accompanied by local wine. After the feast, the tree is taken in a Sicilian cart to the village, where it is prepared for the next day’s ceremony. Once the bark has been removed, the trunk is wrapped in red and white ribbons and reinforced with a pole to make it easier to lift during the ceremony. The leaves are decorated with other fronds and coloured ribbons, with pendants also made of ribbons and wool, but also with animal shapes made of cheese.

On Sunday, after being blessed by the priest, the tree is carried in a procession through the streets of the village. The men who take part in the ceremony wear traditional dress with red pom-poms around their necks and black waistcoats. The procession stops and the men raise the tree in front of the house of the woman they wish to marry. Once the tree has been raised, the woman may offer a twig as a sign of acceptance of the proposal.


Buttitta E.I., La danza di Ares. Forme e funzioni delle danze armate, Gruppo Editoriale Bonanno srl, Roma, 2014
Buttitta E.I., Feste dell'alloro in Sicilia, Folkstudio di Palermo, 1992
D’Onofrio S., Le parole delle cose: simboli e riti sociali in Sicilia, Congedo, Galatina (Lecce), 1997
Firrone, T., Dall’albero cosmico all’albero casa. Viaggio nel mondo di una straordinaria creatura, ARACNE Editrice, Roma, 2011
Sorgi O., L’albero della vita. Eros e iniziazione nella festa degli schetti di Terrasini, Dialoghi Mediterranei - Periodico bimestrale dell'Istituto Euroarabo di Mazara del Vallo, numero 5, gennaio 2014
REI - Libro delle celebrazioni - Festa di li schetti (last visited 27/06/2023)