Laura Thayer went to experience the life, history and culture in southern Italy last Christmas
One day I awoke to find a cold north wind blowing down from the mountains. Day by day, the last signs of autumn blow away as winter descends on the Amalfi Coast. Despite the cooler temperatures, November is the time of year when I enjoy reconnecting with Amalfi at a slower pace. When all the extra layers of summer are stripped away one by one, the parking area packed full of buses, the ferries coming and going in the busy harbour, the crowds of visitors, what emerges is, ultimately, the authentic Amalfi.
One of Amalfi’s charms is that it is very much a living and traditional southern Italian town. When winter arrives daily life goes on just as before only a little bit quieter now. I cherish the winter days just as much as the sunny ones, and perhaps even more as it?s during the quiet winter days that I’ve come to know the people and traditions in Amalfi.
There’s no better time to experience the importance of traditions than during the festival of Sant’Andrea (St Andrew), Amalfi’s patron saint. On the last day of November the feast day for Sant’Andrea is celebrated in grand style. Since there are fewer visitors in Amalfi than there are for the SantAndrea festival on June 27th, the November festival has a very local feel. Looking around the Piazza Duomo, packed from side to side, you see the people of Amalfi. It’s more than history and far more than display, this is their most important religious tradition.
The glimmering silver statue of Sant’Andrea appears at the top of the grand staircase of the cathedral to a cheer from the crowd below. Slowly theprocession makes its way down the 62 steps of the cathedral. Over twenty men accomplish the arduous task of carrying the statue down the steps, and their hard work is met with a mix of awe, applause and the joy of seeing Sant’Andrea once again. It’s a tradition for many Amalfitans to touch the statue as the religious procession makes its way through town, down to the edge of the sea on the beach and back to the piazza at the base of the cathedral. The statue is then returned to the church in one spectacular run up the steps. A sigh of relief fills the piazza once the statue reaches the top, Sant’Andrea is home again. As far as traditions go, this is one of the most dramatic in Amalfi!
For Amalfitans the festival of Sant’Andrea at the end of November traditionally marks the beginning of the Christmas season. Soon the colourful festival lights will come down and in their place will appear Christmas lights and decorations up and down the main streets, criss-crossing the piazzas in town. It won’t be long before windows are decked out in a festive style and holiday shopping is in the air. Christmas is just around the corner on the Amalfi Coast.
LAURA THAYER is an American writer and art historian living on the Amalfi Coast. She writes about daily life, history and culture in southern Italy at www.ciaoamalfi.com