Carpe Diem

July 2

On July 2, since 1659, the Italian city of Siena has hosted Il
Palio, a medieval-style horse race around its central piazza that
lasts only 70 seconds but occupies local citizens for the entire
year. It’s no Kentucky Derby, with high-stakes Thoroughbreds and
swank parties; it’s a celebration of the soul of the city. Each of
17 competing horses represents a neighborhood. On race morning, the
horses are led into Mass at local churches to be blessed by a
priest, and the jockeys, who ride bareback, are bedecked in their
neighborhoods’ special colors and symbols (she-wolf, dragon,
porcupine, noble goose). Weeks of feasting, partying, and betting
precede the race, and afterward, throughout the year, each
neighborhood puts on a colorful, noisy festival anticipating next
year’s Palio. While you might balk at the idea of staging a horse
race in your own town square, you might tap into Palio’s grand
spirit by organizing interneighborhood softball games or volleyball
matches, complete with festive decorations and a party

August 1

Celebrated for centuries, August 1 (Lughnasadh, the Celts call
it; Lammas to the Anglo-Saxons) marks the start of the harvest
season when grains, fruits, and vegetables ripen. Lugh was an
influential Celtic god, the master of light whose gift of long days
made the harvest possible. Food is, of course, the celebration’s
centerpiece. Some English village churches still hold a Loaf-Mass
to bless bread made from the season’s first wheat. Fresh-baked
bread can begin your own Lughnasadh feast; add freshly picked
berries, tomatoes, melons, and sweet corn from the garden or
farmers’ market. Traditionally, this celebration was marked with
merry fairs featuring agricultural displays, athletic contests, and
games–which inspired our own state and county fairs, held across
rural North America in late July and August. This was also a time
when young men and women engaged in serious wooing of prospective
mates, a tradition that has survived, as anyone who has watched
teenagers at a county fair can attest.

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