I closed the last post by saying that the world of the Siena contradaioli (the members of the various contrade) is almost entirely focused on the two days a year on which there’s a horse race, which today is referred to as the Palio, or in Italian, “Il Palio.” Now it’s time to learn more about the Palio itself.
I grew up in Reno, Nevada, home to deep blue skies, over 300 mountain ranges, and legal gambling. My childhood was dotted with the special family dinners when my grandparents would take us out to eat in casinos. This was back in a time when casino owners were local businessmen, usually well-known in the community, and my grandparents knew a few of them.
We played Keno during dinner. (I don’t even know if this still goes on; maybe someone from Reno can tell me.) Every table had a centerpiece holding blank Keno tickets and thick black crayons. Each of us would take a ticket and mark our numbers, then we’d watch the electronic Keno boards that were mounted throughout the dining room, and compare the official numbers with those on our tickets.
I never saw anyone actually place a bet. We did it for entertainment, and probably to keep us kids busy; during the course of one dinner, there were several rounds of the game. And that was Keno, in Reno, in the olden days.
In areas of the world with a predominantly Catholic population, Carnival (spelled Carnaval in France) is the festive period prior to Lent, the time of prayer and penance before Easter. During Lent, people traditionally abstained from eating meat, which may have led to the word “carnival” (essentially a derivative from Latin and meaning “removal of meat”). People also refrained from consuming dairy, eggs, other fatty foods, and sugar.
If you don’t get to eat meat or other goodies for six weeks, then you might have the urge to load up as much as possible beforehand. Let the party begin! Laissez les bon temps rouler!
It is the season of reverence for light and lights, not to mention something called the light. For inspiration on this dark December eve, I’m sitting by a roaring hot fire, throwing plenty of light and warmth to guide me. The days are dark: I awake in the dark, and barely get the day’s tasks done before dark once again settles upon the land.
It is no wonder that from dark days are born celebrations of light. Hanukkah has begun for Jews around the world, an eight-day Festival of Lights celebrating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Using the menorah, one candle is lit for each day of the holiday. Kwanzaa, a multi-day celebration for people of African descent, involves lighting the candles of the kinara.
The light of the Star of Bethlehem led the magi to the manger and the infant Jesus. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, there is a Spanish Catholic tradition of lighting farolitos, simple lanterns made with paper bags and candles, which line the walls and roofs of houses in the region.