Anne's Blog

Umbria’s Pasquarelle: Singing in the Epiphany

Date: January 1, 2021 - categories: , , , , , , , , - 1 Comment

January can be icy cold in Umbria but a month of warmth, too: the warmth of the locals celebrating January festivals.  An Umbrian winter festival absolutely not to miss is the late-January rural music competition, the Rassegna delle Pasquarelle, in Cascia, in the mountainous southeastern corner of Umbria.
Probably first inhabited by native Italic peoples, present-day Cascia, was part of the Roman municipium of Cursula, ancient city destroyed by an earthquake. Survivors fled to the nearby hillside and rebuilt. The name “Cascia” is first mentioned as an urban entity in the 6th-c A.D. when attacked and devastated by the Byzantines. then the Longobards…and finally by the North African pirates, the  Saracens.
Cascia rises as a free medieval city-state as of the 12th-c. and maximum splendor was reached in the Middle Ages – as for most of the Umbrian hill towns. In the 16th-c.,  Cascia belonged to the Papal States for just 30 years…but succeeded in remaining independent.  This Umbrian mountain town of force and resiliency – just consider all the invasions – was destroyed and rebuilt after earthquakes in 1300 (fortified, too, after reconstruction), 1599 and 1703 – but recently as well: in October, 2016
Cascia’s principal claim to fame is as the home of St. Rita of Cascia, Augustinian saint – and patron saint of “impossible causes” who was born in nearby Roccaporena  at the end of the 14th-c and died there in the mid-15th-c.  After her canonization in 1900, a large shrine was built in the town, which is still an important place of pilgrimage – and the center of the festivities on her feast day, May 22nd.

January warms up in Cascia with the late-January Rassegna delle Pasquarelle, (the review of typical wintertime rural songs) when groups of singers from all over central Italy gather to sing  these rural songs announcing the coming of the Messiah,  the arrival of the Magi and bringing good wishes for health and prosperity in the New Year.  The pasquarelle might also sing good wishes for finding  a young bride! Propitious wishes for fertility of the lands highlight these simple songs of the rural people so inextricably linked to the land.

Traditionally, the pasquarelle were sung house-to-house by ebullient groups of musicians, singers  – joyfully requesting food, and wine, wishing good luck for the coming year, a much-loved tradition of not just Umbria, but areas of Latium, as well as the Marches region and Emilia Romagna, with lyrics always in the dialect of the region.

The singers and musicians are called  “pasquaroli,” “pasquellanti,” “pasqualotti,”  and “pasquellari” (in Cascia and other areas of Umbria).
The names all derive from the expression, “Pasqua Epifania” since – in Umbria – and the Marches – important festivities are defined as “Pasqua.” There are three in central Italy: la Pasquetta (Epiphany), la Pasqua di Resurrezione (Easter) e la Pasqua di Pentecoste (Pentecost).
The singers might also be called “befanotti,or “singers of the Befana,“ that good witch who fills the stockings of Italian children the night before the Epiphany, the day of the arrival of the Magi – often a theme of the pasquarelle songs.
 “Befana” derives from the Latin Epiphania which then becomes Pifania, then Bifania, Befania and finally “Befana“.  Epiphaneia (Greek), meaning “manifestation of a divinity,” celebrates the manifesting of Christ to the world, i.e., the Child visited by the Magi.
A legend recounts that an old woman, Befana, spent her days prodigiously cleaning and sweeping. When the Magi came to her door seeking the whereabouts of the Baby Jesus, Befana turned them away, wishing no interruption to her cleaning, but remorse overcame her:  she set out to find the Child with baked goods and gifts and a broom for the Child’s mother. Her efforts were futile and Befana is still following  a bright light in the sky, seeking the Child.
On the eve of the Epiphany, she stops in every house where there is a child and leaves a gift, for although she has been unsuccessful in her search for the Baby Jesus, the Christ Child can be found in each child.  Here in Umbria, the Befana leaves a stocking of sweets for each young one – or fills the stockings if the children in the home hang their own out.
Frequently Befana is part of the group of those singing le pasquarelle, for the arrival of the Magi is often a theme of the songs:
…..and she was there, singing with gusto in Cascia in the year Pino and I took in the delightful Rassegna delle Pasquarelle:
The Magi were there, too:
….and  not only the Magi, but sometimes  the Madonna and St. Joseph joined in – and even the Baby Jesus:
The songs of the pasquellari are handed down generation-to-generation and often the accordionists have learned from fathers or grandfathers….
Tambourines and triangles join in, too, and other folk instruments with delightful onomatopoeic names, such as the triccheballacche, which starred in many Cascia groups::
A  musical instrument originating in southern Italy, the triccheballacche is constructed of 3 wood mallets and the the outside 2 are  hinged to allow percussion with the center mallet.
The “caccavella” –  or for onomatopoeia “putipu”  – is a friction drum (also from southern Italy) composed of three parts: the sound box (an earthenware pan, or a wooden tub or even a large tin can), a film of skin or heavy cloth and a bamboo cane. If animal skins were not available – generally of goat, sheep or rabbit – a thick cloth was used to cover the drum.
Those caccavelle (or putipu) pounded out the rhythms in Cascia:
The music of the pasquarelle – tied to the Epiphany above all – certainly links to the beloved Umbrian saint, Francesco di Assisi.  In 1223, in the hilltown of Greccio in northern Latium the friar from Assisi wished to present a living re-creation of the first Nativity for the people.
Franciscans will diffuse the Nativity as a Christmas tradition and the festival becomes embellished with music and song.
Central Italy’s pasquarelle close the Nativity celebrations with the unity of all age groups joined in joyous age-old rural songs.
Click here to enjoy the pasquarelle.
Click here to see – and hear! – another group
** (…and the full story of  San Francesco’s “living Nativity” is here: )

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Privacy Policy

Privacy Italian Legislative Decree n° 196/2003 Under Article 13 of the Italian Legislative Decree no. 196/2003, regulations with regard to the Protection of Personal Data, this is an informative report to all interested parties on the modality of the treatment of personal data, arising from interaction with our website
THE PRINCIPAL FOR DATA TREATMENT During site consultation, personal data referring to identified or identifiable persons can be processed. The principal for data treatment is Anne Robichaud Pian della Pieve Assisi 06081 (PG) Italy. The data will be mainly processed at the mentioned head office by the people responsible for the website or by other people appointed for occasional maintenance operations, provided that their actions conform to of the guarantees enshrined in the Legislative Decree 196/2003.
Web navigation The information systems and software procedures required for the functioning of this website, acquire some personal data during their normal service, the transmission of which is implicit in the use of web communication protocols. This information is not collected with the purpose of identifying interested parties, but due to its very nature, the information could lead to user identification through processes and relations with data held by third parties. In this data category there are IP addresses or domain names belonging to computers used by users who connect to the site, addresses with URI (Uniform Resource Identifier) notification of the requested resources, time of the request, used method in submitting the request to the server, dimension of the file obtained in replying, the numeric code mentioning the reply status given by the server (successful reply, error, etc?) and other parameters referred to the operation system and to the user’s information environment. This data is used with the sole purpose of obtaining anonymous statistical information on the use of the site and to check the correct functioning; immediately after processing, the data is erased.
Data voluntarily supplied by the user The voluntary optional and explicit e-mail transmission to the addresses mentioned in this site implies the subsequent acquisition of the sender’s address, necessary to reply to the queries, as well as the other eventual personal data registered in the message.
OPTIONAL PERSONAL DATA SUPPLY Except for the above mentioned navigation data, the user may be asked to supply his own personal data through queries or messages to the email addresses shown in the contact pages. Failure to provide such data may be the cause of the inability to obtain the requested information from the company.
TREATMENT MODALITY The personal data is treated in compliance with the Legislative Decree no. 196/2003 and held only for the time necessary to achieve the aim for which it has been collected. Specific safety measures are taken to prevent any data loss, illicit or incorrect use and unauthorized access.
RIGHTS OF THIRD PARTIES The data subjects are at any time entitled to obtain confirmation as to whether or not data relating to him are held, to know the contents and the origin, to check the correctness, to ask for integration, updating or change (art. 7 Decree Law 196:June 2003). In accordance with the same article, they are entitled to obtain the erasure, conversion into anonymous form or freezing of all data used in breach of the law, to object, on legitimate grounds, to the processing of data relating to him. All requests have to be transmitted to the e-mail address

Agenzia Viaggi Stoppini in Assisi handles all technical support for my guided visits (bus transportation, organization of meals, etc)