Epifania (Epiphany), Piana degli Albanesi. Located 29km (18 miles) from Palermo in one of the Albanian colonies founded at the end of the 15th century, the celebration of Epiphany is an ostentatious affair in the Orthodox Christian rite. A joyous procession of residents in traditional Albanian costumes parades through the streets. Call tel. 091-8574144 or go to www.pianalbanesi.it. January 6.
Carnevale, Acireale. Carnevale is celebrated all over Sicily, but this one is one of the most famous in Italy. In a town north of Catania between Mount Etna and the sea, it's marked by a colorful parade of masked participants and giant floats. Lemons and oranges from nearby citrus fields are used in abundance to create statues and figures, creating an aromatic atmosphere. It's a weeklong party of fun and revelry. End of January/ beginning of February, according to Lenten calendar.
Almond Blossom Festival, Agrigento. Literally thousands of almond trees are in bloom around the Valley of the Temples at this festival heralding the arrival of the first fruits of spring. In Phrygian myths, the almond tree was viewed as the "father of the world." The event is marked with music, folkloric dances from around the world, parades, and puppet shows. All kinds of sweets made with almonds are sold. First week of February.
Feast of Saint Agatha, Catania. This is the spectacular religious celebration of the martyred patron saint of the city, which takes place over three days. A procession of huge candle holders called candelore, representing the historical guilds of Catania, parades through the city, preceding the procession of the relics of Saint Agatha. There's also street theater and fireworks. Sweets based on centuries-old recipes from nunneries are sold. All-around mayhem prevails. February 3 to February 5.
Holy Week Observances, island-wide. Processions and age-old ceremonies -- some from pagan days, some from the Middle Ages -- are staged in every city and town in Sicily. No matter where you are, you're likely to come across observances of this annual event. Trapani's procession of the Misteri is the island's most famous event staged during Holy Week. But the most dramatic and moving is in the inland city of Enna, about an hour west of Catania. Events are staged on such days as Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and, of course, Easter Sunday itself. Local tourist offices can supply details. Week leading up to Easter.
The Dance of the Devils, Prizzi. Unique in Italy, the dance of the devils (Il Ballo dei Diavoli) takes place on Easter Sunday in this town, a 2-hour drive south of Palermo, deep in the Sicilian interior. The festival represents the age-old struggle between good and evil. Figures dressed as red devils, their faces covered with grotesque masks, parade through the streets, searching for souls to devour. Death is seen dressed in yellow and carrying a crossbow. All ends well when "angels" appear later to subdue the devils. Easter Sunday.
Infiorata (Flower Festival), Noto. The residents of this little southeastern town prepare a magnificent carpet of flowers along Via Nicolaci, in the historic core. Themes are taken from religion and mythology. The festival features crafts shows, performances of sacred music, and tours of religious sites, followed by dances and parades of flower-bedecked antique carriages.
Festa del Muzzini, Messina. Muzzini are ancient vases draped in silk, which was a local product of the city, and are carried in parades. This observance is actually a pagan rite to honor Demeter, the goddess of earth and fertility. It's rumored that many young women trying to have a child find themselves impregnated on the night of this celebration.
Luglio Musicale, Trapani. A month-long series of outdoor events takes place at the Villa Margherita celebrating the finest in ballet, opera, and modern musicals since 1948.
The Feast of Santa Rosalia, Palermo. Holding a special place in the hearts of many residents, this is the celebration of the patron saint of the city. During the week-long festivities Palermo becomes an open-air theater. The highlight is when a 15m-high (49 ft.) float known as the carro, shaped like a boat and bearing a statue of the saint, is paraded along Corso Vittorio Emanuele from the Cathedral to the Foro Umberto at the sea, drawn by male devotees. Bands, dancers, circus performers, religious choruses, fireworks, theatrical performances, and food stalls (featuring everything from delectable tiny snails to the ubiquitous arancini (rice balls)) characterize the event.
Scalinata Infiorata, Caltagirone. The spectacular, arduous stairs of Caltagirone, where all of the 102 steps are decorated in local ceramics yet no two are alike, are embellished from top to bottom with flowers by day and candles by night that create an effigy of Saint James, the patron saint of the city. Contact the Caltagirone www.comune.caltagirone.ct.it.
Ferragosto (Assumption Day). This national holiday virtually shuts down the island of Sicily, marking both the religious festival of the Assumption of Mary and the proletarian Ferie di Agosto or August holidays. This event always includes religious processions; the real spectacle however is the night before, when bonfires are lit on all the beaches, giving way to all-night dancing and mayhem. August 15.
Palio dei Normanni, Piazza Armerina. Sicily's Norman past is observed during this historic celebration in which locals dress in medieval costumes and parade around town. Even jousting takes place among knights in period costumes, looking like refugees from the pages of Ivanhoe. They fight against a puppet representing the dreaded Saracens. Mid-August.
International Couscous Festival, San Vito Lo Capo. This annual event on the shores north of Trapani is a week-long festival of live music and a bounty of local foods. The couscous competition draws some of the best cooks in the world, including those from North Africa where the dish originated. You are guaranteed to put on weight if you participate in all of the feasting. More info at www.couscousfest.it. Last week of September.
Ottobrata Zafferanese, Zafferrana Etnea. At the foothills of Mount Etna, this month-long festival celebrates the local products of the area, and each weekend revolves around different themes: Honey, pistachios, wine, chestnuts, and grapes. Samplings abound, folkloristic dances, local artisans selling their crafts, and art exhibitions enliven the event.
Tutti i Santi (All Saints' Day), island-wide. This ancient observance is celebrated all over Italy and is also a national religious holiday. In Sicily, the spirits of the dead are said to come back to visit children, leaving them toys and other goodies. On this holiday, people take the time to make sure the tombs of their late beloveds are squeaky clean and, in most towns, it is not uncommon for families to sit by the tombs all day long, creating a veritable town festival at the cemetery. Pastry shops prepare a delectable confection, the ominously named "bones of the dead," and the frutta martorana, the almond paste shaped to resemble fruits and vegetables.
Chocolate Festival, Modica. Cocoa lovers from around the world flock to the baroque city of Modica, where the celebrated chocolate, still crafted according to recipes from the 16th century, is sold by the tons and local confectioners offer samples of their sweets made with top-secret recipes. A week of entertainment, overeating, and overall pre-holiday gaiety prevails. More info at www.chocobarocco.it. Second week of December.
Christmas Fair, Syracuse. This is the island's most colorful Christmas market. Many islanders drive for miles to purchase gifts here, including sweets, clothing, special embroidery, ornaments, and other items. It's held in the Epipoli section of Syracuse. From the second Saturday in December to December 21.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.