Snake Festival-Festa Dei Serpari: Cocullo, Abruzzo - First Thursday in May

Cocullo is located in the mountainous region of Abruzzo, to the east of Rome. For most of the year it is a typical, picturesque white stone village with a population of only 500. But on the first Thursday in May, something truly remarkable occurs. From the side streets to the main church, Cocullo is literally crawling with snakes

Known as the Feast Day of San Domenico, the festival involves hundreds of snakes that are caught in the woods outside the town to be displayed, worshiped and paraded around the town. The Serpari is a special clan of men who handle the snakes, a skill that is passed down through generations from father to son. The snakes are always captured around the first day of spring, when it is easy to catch sleepy snakes coming out from their winter holes. The Serpari place the newly caught snakes in terracotta jugs filled with bran or carry them back to Cocullo in sheepskin sacks. On the day of the festival, they are draped around the necks, arms, and bodies of the Serpari. Adults and children have no reason to be afraid of touching the snakes; the Serpari have already removed their fangs

Originally, the end of the festival required killing and cooking the snakes. Today, the snakes are released back into the forest, and villagers celebrate instead with a sweet bread called ciambellone, which is made of five massive rings that represent snakes biting their own tails. In addition to ciambellone, the marketplace is filled with other breads. Stands sell anise-flavored ciambelle, which look like little snakes wrapped around each other. Other towns have their own versions of sweets that look like snakes, such as the coffee and almond flavored cervone with raspberry jam inside. Out of Perugia comes the torciglione, a serpent made of bread with almonds in its scales, a slice of candied orange for a tongue, and coffee beans for eyes. There is also sure to be a roast pig, or porchetta, in the town's square, flavored with rosemary and other herbs.

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