One of the most exciting things you could do in Italy is participate at one of the folklore traditions. One good one, for lovers of traditional customs, is the Festa dei Ceri (Race of the Candles) in Gubbio. This is not one of the most famous ones, such as – for example – the Palio of Siena, but it is definitely worth it.
The Race of the Candles: a Festival that Dates Back the 12th Century
Italians are quite proud of their history and like to show it off with curious historical reenactments. The Race of the Candle is a historical festival that takes place every May 15th and during the entire month of May, Gubbio is wrapped in colors and busy with events to mark the festival. The literal translation of the name of this celebration is Party of the Candles (Festa dei Ceri).
Gubbio is a lovely small town in Umbria, one of the central regions in Italy. Just the town itself deserves a visit. If you happen to be in that area in the middle of May, you should consider yourself an especially lucky traveler.
The Race of the Candles has been taking place since 1160 to celebrate Gubbio’s patron saint and cardinal, Saint Ubald. This celebration is basically very simple. There are three wooden candles (“ceri”) of more or less 300 kg each and with a height of almost 400 m, so not really the typical candles that people usually immagine. The “candles” are brought on shoulders by men throughout the narrow alleys of the small town until they reach the Basilica of Saint Ubaldo. On top of the candles is one of three Saints: St. Ubald, St. Anthony Abate and St. George.
Like almost all antique traditions, there are not many written rules, however the goal of the chosen bearer of the candle is to not drop or bang the candle against walls or people.
If you decide to experience the Race of the Candles on the official website you can find all of the details from dawn to dusk.
Naturally, the real thrill of this uncommon tradition is the variety of emotions expressed by the people of Gubbio who, together with their colors and banners, will undoubtedly affect every visitor.
Did you know?
The “Candles”, since 1973, are the official symbol of the region Umbria.
If you would like to learn more about Italian traditions, see here.