SicilyShortStay listed below the 10 unique Sicilian customs and traditions that you might encounter while visiting the island. Sicilian culture is as impressive as Sicily’s majestic landscapes and historical sites. These Sicilian traits are so unique that you cannot miss them! We have asked locals and immigrants in Sicily to tell us their impression through the years.
The TOP TEN Unique Sicilian customs and traditions
1. 100 Buongiorno per day in Sicily is totally normal.
Greet a hundred Buongiorno is maybe too much? No, it’s not! When you go to public places, schools, meetings, any houses, it is only polite to acknowledge the ones who are already inside. People will exchange the same courtesy. And it is rude to enter and exit without saying a word. Buongiorno or Good day(Buonasera in the evening) is an excellent start in adapting the Sicilian tradition. Your neighbours, new friends, store owners, hotel staffs, waiters, folks you only met once or you have eye contact with for 5 seconds or so will appreciate you if you greet them Buongiorno when you meet them on the street.
2. Two pm Naptime and the many excuses to relax in Sicily. Siesta, quiet Sunday afternoons, Monday day off and Winter vacation)
Sicilians, in general, are diligent but it does not mean, they forget their love for relaxing and slow living. Sicily is the epitome of la dolce vita and siesta is a very important part of that Sicilian lifestyle. They take their 2 pm naptime really seriously! Normal offices are still 8 hours. Although, you will find out that, supermarkets, bakeries, and most businesses close down after 2 pm. They reopen at 4 or 5 pm. Workers have their lunch break on these hours expecting that customers are also resting on their homes. Hence, make sure you have already bought your essentials in the morning or wait till they unlock the doors again.
Family and religion are everything for the Sicilians. They devote Sunday for church and their families. Many stores on small villages like bars, Tabaccheria, grocery stores also choose to close down every Sunday afternoon. It is until evening for this particular reason. While laws required several restaurants and outlets to take one day off in a week. They typically chose on Mondays.
As a popular island, tourism businesses in Sicily tend to be super busy during the Summer. Crossing our fingers and toes us too! They assign the Winter period for vacations. They will generally post a sign on their shops which says Chiuso per ferie!
3. They are not cursing, it’s Sicilianu!
When I first came to Sicily, I was paranoid. Sicilian dialect offended me multiple times. I still remember when I first heard the words such as minc***, sta cristiana, parrami n sicilianu, bedda fimmina. My ears transfer the phrases to my brain as curses. I was not ready for another language aside from Filipino, Italian and English. Gradually, after more than 8 years, Sicilianu becomes my language too. The jokes, sarcasm, compliments, affection and care that come with it. Sicilians are some of the nicest and most generous people I have met in my life. They embrace me as their own. A few may look snobbish, a smile can always break the ice and get you lots of discounts. Ask the fruit and fish vendors near you. Sicilians are very direct, they are not afraid to express themselves from their political views to the best cleaning soaps.
4. Nepotism. In Sicily, connection is everything.
Nepotism is not a unique Sicilian customs and traditions since it exists anywhere. However, we are adding it since it is very much prevalent in Sicily. Back in my home country, we call it the Padrino system as a reference to the ‘Godfather’ movie. Now, I know why! Though exams and credentials are the deciding factors to land a job position, knowing someone in the institution is a plus. Even more, getting a recommendation from someone who knows someone will guarantee you a long-term spot in the Sicilian workforce. People with great connections, rich blood relatives, influential friends benefit from this favouritism. Sadly those who don’t, search for their luck outside the island
5. Driving experience in Sicily
To reach beautiful off the beaten paths in Sicily, we suggest renting a car or a scooter. It is a different experience to witness the island’s splendour at your own phase. However, please brace yourself with the common driving styles and oddities in Sicilian roads. There are plenty of them. Small villages also have narrow medieval streets, originally built for horse carts. Two cars stopping in the middle of the way to chat like no one is waiting after them. Impatient honkings and hand cursing. Lastly, aggressive drivers who want to overtake in any chance possible to ‘uomo in cappello’. It literally means old man in a white hat who drives very slowly. They suddenly appear when one is in a hurry, a myth believed by some.
6. Keep away from bad lucks!
Sicilians are very superstitious. They apply prevention from bad luck in the everyday scenario. An ancient myth called ‘malocchio’ or evil eye caused by spells of strong jealousy or wicked force was said to bring adversities, sickness or worse death to many people in the past. ‘Porta attaso’ is the modern version of the Italian myth. It is when an envious person(sometimes a ‘friend’) desires misfortunes to another person out of envy. To avoid this negative force, some makes a hand gesture of the sign of the horns.
Here are the other beliefs we heard so far; sprinkling salt on the corners of the house to cast away evil spirits and salt for broken glasses, plates and mirrors to avert bad luck. Only when someone dies that one can put hats and shoes on the beds, hence keep them away. Do not open the umbrella inside the house. In the Middle Ages, people used on death occasions. Do not make a cross sign in vain such as crossed fork and knife, crossed arms, crossed shoes. Any crossed objects offend the Cross of Christ.
7. Le prefiche (Funeral Crying Ladies)
The present of prefica(le prefiche) or funeral crying ladies was a Roman funeral rite. Sicilians acquired the rituals until the 1950s. The folklore was about the deceased and the griefs of his loved ones. Funeral crying ladies wore a black dress as well as a black veil. Together with their white handkerchief, they mourned the dead, wept and sang in despair, reciting praises about the departed. The use of le prefiche is very rare now, it only remains a told story of yesterday.
8. The Legend of Scirocco and Tramontana
Read more interesting love stories in Sicily here. Ever heard of ‘Scirocco’ or Sirocco? It is that supèr hot, dry, dusty, annoying air that troubles Sicily every now and often, around mid-Spring, Summer and mid-Autumn. The wind comes from the Sahara desert and travels to Europe meeting the cold Northern wind known as Tramontana. According to Greek mythology, Zeus assigned the demigod of the winds, Aeolus to keep the dangerous winds locked in a cave far from Olympus. He is the son of Poseidon and deity of the Aeolian islands.
By accident, a local of the island freed the two winds, Tramontana, the lady of the cold wind and Scirocco, the lord of the hot wind. The two fell in love and decided to unite. However, on their wedding day, Tramontana wore a lovely dress decorated with silver ice and Scirocco charmed by his future wife blew a warm breathe that melted the dress. Infuriated, the bride cancelled the wedding that caused
Scirocco in pain. The two winds cannot be seen together again.
9. No pasta, no bread, it’s Arancina Day!
Majority of the Sicilians are Catholic Christians, hence, there are many religious ceremonies and virtues in Sicily for patron saints through feasts or practices. Probably the most customary is the feast day of Saint Lucia, observed on the 13th day of December. Born in Syracuse and from a noble family, Saint Lucia died as a martyress for donating her riches to the poor and refusing her arranged marriage for she had already consecrated life of perpetual virginity to Christ.
Based on accounts, the citizens of Palermo and Syracuse offered prayers to the saint during the famines of 1646 and 1763. It was believed that Saint Lucia saved and protected the cities. Since then, the Sicilians abstain from consuming foods made in flour such as pasta, pizza, and bread every December 13th. They prefer to eat recipes with rice, vegetables and beans, Arancina, fried stuffed rice balls being the most traditional.
10. New Year traditions in Sicily
New Year tradition in Sicily is tailored over the years. As a region in Italy, Sicily shares some of the country’s customs and they are also a mix of the previous nations that occupied the island in various periods. A Sicilian New Year banquet should contain lentils to symbolize wealth, meat particularly zampone, a stuffed pig trotter for abundance and fried baccala fish for well-being.
Feel free to add Unique Sicilian customs and traditions that you’ve noticed so far in the comment section.