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World Music Celebrations: Rockets For Easter, Snakes In Italy

Ra Boe
Wikimedia Commons
The village of Cocullo in Abruzzo, Italy.

Each week on World Music (Saturday nights from 8-10 on KSTX 89.1 FM), I take a look at celebrations happening around the world. This week, rockets blaze for the risen Christ in Greece, and Indiana Jones would never want to find himself in Abruzzo next week. Snakes! 

Saint Dominic (1170-1221) was a Catholic priest who founded an order of preachers. He believed in a simple lifestyle and actively befriended the poor. So it must be astonishing for the saintly man to find himself the center of attention at Italy’s snake festival. On the first Thursday of May, the tiny village of Cocullo in Italy, holds a Snake Procession. Weeks prior to the event, snake catchers round up a substantial number of the slippery ones and de-fang them, just in case Saint Dominic doesn’t rise to the occasion and prevent a snake bite. The day starts out with fireworks, a Mass then the procession. The statue of Saint Dominic is draped with snakes, and off they go, down the streets. If the snakes coil themselves around the saint’s head, that’s good news for the harvest. If however they head for the arms, it means bad news for the year ahead. In gone by days the snakes were cooked and eaten. Today, more delicate stomachs opt to set them free in nearby woods.

On the Greek island of Chios, tourists are warned that the best place to watch the Rocket War is up a hill, and not in the midst of the action. Locals spend weeks beforehand, boarding up windows and encasing in protective wire any vulnerable buildings.

This celebration of the Greek Orthodox Easter starts out innocently enough with a Mass, which apparently triggers the launching of a massive rocket onslaught. Two churches aim their missiles at one another. The goal is to land a rocket on the belfry bells of each other’s churches. This tradition dates back to a battle at the time of the Ottoman Empire and doesn’t show any sign of disappearing.

You can hear more about this and other celebrations happening around the world every Saturday night on World Music with Deirdre Saravia, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on KSTX 89.1 FM.

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Deirdre as born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and her first paid work was at the age of 10 with the BBC as an actress on "Children's Hour." She continued to perform regularly on radio and stage for the next eight years, at which point she was informed by her parents that theater was not an option and she needed "real" work.