Tag Archives: italian traditions

Another Reason to Be Good – Santa Lucia ;)

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Kids, pay heed! It’s once again time to be good if you want to get candies and cookies and other goodies for the feast day of Santa Lucia on December 13th! With all these opportunities for getting gifts in exchange for being good (and avoiding that nasty gift of coal for being bad), it seems to me that December must be the most well-behaved month of the year! Perhaps some of these holidays should be spread out during the year so that the goodness can last a bit longer ūüôā

The feast day of Santa Lucia is celebrated in various parts of Italy and in very different ways. In Sicily, where she was actually born and martyred, they celebrate her feast day with religious processions and special food. Legend has it that back in 1582, a severe famine miraculously ended on her feast day when ships loaded with grain entered the harbor. The people were so hungry that they didn’t take the time to grind the grain into flour, but boiled the grains immediately. Because of this, Sicilians, even to this day, will not eat anything made with flour on her feast day. No bread, no pasta! Instead, they make a traditional dish called cuccia. Everyone makes their cuccia a bit differently and the women have their kids bring their version to all the neighbors to sample. Here is one recipe, which sounds delicious and is tempting me to try it soon…

Cuccia

500 g. whole wheat (not ground)
500 g. ricotta
250 g sugar
salt
cinnamon
vanilla
candied fruits and/or chocolate chips

Soften the whole wheat for 2 days in water. After the 2 days, boil the wheat with a little bit of salt added to the water for at least an hour until it is cooked. Drain the wheat and let it settle for an hour before proceeding.
Meanwhile drain the ricotta until it is dry. Once dry, add the sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla and mix well (an electric mixer works well for this.) Stir in the candied fruits and/or chocolate chips.
Add the wheat mixture and mix it all up. Portion the mixture into individual bowls and sprinkle with cinnamon.

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The feast day of Santa Lucia is also celebrated in North-Eastern Italy, but in a totally different way. The traditional food eaten here is goose, and she is the one that brings gifts to the good boys and girls. She brings sweets and candies to the good ones, and guess what she brings to those not so good? Yep, once again they get coal!

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According to tradition, she arrives during the night between Dec. 12th and Dec. 13th in the company of a donkey and her escort, Castaldo. Children are asked to leave coffee for Lucia, a carrot for the donkey, and a glass of wine for Castaldo. In exchange, she leaves candies and sweets for the children. But don’t get any ideas of catching a glimpse of her – if she sees you, she will throw ash in your eyes! Yikes!

When I asked my mom about her memories of Santa Lucia, the only thing she came up with was this little rhyme:
Santa Lucia – il giorno piu corto che ci sia! (Santa Lucia – the shortest day there is). I always thought the shortest day was December 21st…hmm…maybe I’ve been wrong all these years! Obviously, my mom didn’t grow up in one of the places where her feast day was heavily celebrated!

This very traditional Italian song, Santa Lucia, is always one that brings me back to my childhood when these songs were always sung at gatherings at the Italian Social Club my parents belonged to in San Francisco.  And of course, when Andrea Bocelli sings it, I can swoon!

The Italian Holiday Celebrations Begin…

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The month of December, and continuing into the beginning of January, is filled with many Italian traditions that make up the Christmas holiday season in Italy.  The first of these holidays is the feast of St. Nicholas (San Nicola) on December 6th.

This feast is not celebrated in all parts of Italy, but where it is, great traditions take place.  Bari in Southern Italy is THE place to be if you want to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas.

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This is his city as this is where his remains were put after they were heisted from Myra.  A huge basilica sits here in his honor.

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On December 6th, young girls wishing to get married, petition the saint to act on their behalf by placing a note and three coins in a special box in the basilica in hopes that their wish will be granted.  Children, on the other hand, have other desires.  They put a plate out (much like our children do with Santa Claus on Christmas Eve) with a note asking for sweet gifts if they promise to be good for the coming year.  They go to bed with the hopes that they will find some goodies the next morning.  San Nicola comes in the middle of the night and leaves piles and piles of chocolates, candies, cookies, and other sweet delights for all the good boys and girls.

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The feast of St. Nicholas is also celebrated up in Trieste in Northern Italy.  The traditions were brought here probably due to the strong trade relationships that this city had with Bari.  Here the grandfathers dress up like the saint and give presents of sugar to all the good children, while they give coal to all those that have been bad.  I wonder how much coal they actually give out!

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The Italian Picnic

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Growing up in an Italian family, I went to numerous Italian picnics over the years.¬† Some were just us and some other families, and some were huge events for the various Italian clubs in the area.¬† All of them dealt with lots of food and barbeques!¬† And best of all, we always shared our food with those seated around us.¬† We’d make salads and share them…and with the desserts, it was always a competition who made the best crostata!¬† The friendly competitions were always in good fun, and usually the oldest Nonna won the prize!¬† Wines were shared, too, and usually it was a home made brew!

 

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This last weekend, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the yearly picnic of the Marchigiani Club of San Francisco.¬† This group is made up of those Italians who immigrated here from the Le Marche region of Italy.¬† It was a well organized event with fun, and very Italian, games to play!¬† My favorite was the potato toss to win a salami.¬† Four salamis were hung on a string in front of a back stop and from quite a distance away, potatoes were tossed at the salami’s.¬† If you hit one with the potato, you won!¬† You got 10 potatoes for a dollar to try your aim!¬† We ended up walking away with 2 salami!

 

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The other always popular game is to put a dollar on a number and then throw the dice Рif your number comes up, you win!  On my first try, I won a bottle of Italian olive oil!    And then there were lots of raffle prizes as well, but no luck with those!

Even though they’ve played the same games for years, it’s always fun to relive my childhood and go back to the simpler ways of having fun!

 

 

My Italian Mamma and her Childhood Fun~

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My mom grew up along the shores of beautiful Lago Maggiore, where the summers were spent at the lake and the winters were cold.¬† My mom learned to swim when she was a small child!!¬† This is a big deal because alot of women her age never learned this very important skill!¬† But being that she was raised on a lake, she spent her summers at the “colonnia” ~ a sort of summer camp!¬† Here they learned the side stroke – and this is the only stroke she has ever used!¬† She never put her head under water, but gliding along above the water became her forte!¬† Very elegant, I must say!¬† But….it was strictly forbidden to enter the water less than one hour after eating!¬† This was a big no no, which she carried on to me as a child…and boy was it hard having that restraint when all my friends would go swimming right after eating!¬† Part of this summer camp included embroidery lessons, too.¬† The nuns from the convent would teach these girls the fine art of embroidery, and they made some beautiful things.¬† Most of the items they embroidered were to be put away for their dowries!¬† Sheets, towels, pillow cases – all with beautiful stitchery.¬† A lot of these embroidered fineries had monograms on them…luckily my mom’s initials remained the same, even after marriage!!

One winter, my mom’s friend got a sled and, of course, the kids wanted to try it.¬† So they dragged it up one of the steepest hills in their town.¬† This was the slope of a monument that went from the main road in town all the way down to the lake – a nice long run.¬† The only problem is that at the end of the slope, where it met the lake, there was a¬†decorative railing with cement posts.¬† Of course, being children, they just saw the huge hill and knew it would be a thrill!¬† But, they didn’t look at the end of the path…One behind the other on the sled, with my mom in front, they took off down the hill!¬† When they got down to the bottom, after picking up quite a bit of speed, they found themselves heading right for the cement railing!¬† My mom’s guardian angel was definitely on duty that day because my mom’s head aimed right for the space between the¬†posts and avoided a head on collision with the cement posts!!!¬† Needless to say, that was the last time she went sledding!!

Summertime view of the "deathly" sled run

My mom seemed to get herself into physical trouble quite a bit (or maybe these are just those memories that make for good stories), and she has the scars to prove it.¬† One day, while her and her sister were walking to school, hand in hand, a person riding a bike and with a chicken coop on the front of the handle bars came up behind them.¬† Because the chicken coop was blocking the person’s view, he did not see my mom (since she was small and not tall enough to be visible above the coop!)¬† He knocked her over while the chicken coop fell and all the chickens fluttered about!¬† My mom has a pretty good scar behind her ear from this mishap.¬† Her mom actually passed out when she saw her from all the blood gushing from the back of her ear ūüė¶

And then, the last mishap occurred with a bunch of big dogs!¬† My mom has always been afraid of dogs and it probably stemmed from this incident.¬† She was riding her bike home from school and came around a corner.¬† As she turned the corner, two BIG dogs came out and attacked her!¬† I’m not sure what they did to her, but obviously she fell off her bike and gashed her head…once again.¬† She has some scars, luckily close to the hair line in the back, from this incident!

It’s a miracle she survived her childhood…but, like all of us, these are those memories that make you remember those childhood days ūüôā

Endearing Feast Days

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In Italy, there is always a feast day to celebrate!!¬† They make the most of every possible reason for a holiday!¬†¬†¬†Many of their holidays revolve around a Church holy day, or the feast day of one of their favorite saints.¬† For instance, Milan celebrates the feast day of San Ambrogio, their patron saint, by taking the day off.¬† Other parts of Italy celebrate their special saint’s day¬†with¬†similar observances.¬†¬†

Many of these feast days are associated with special traditions which have been passed on through the generations.¬†¬†¬† They usually involve invoking some special blessing from that special “saint-of-the-day”.¬†¬†

One such feast day celebration is that of San Lorenzo.  His special feast day, August 10th, coincides with the Perseid meteor shower which occurs every year around this date.  This meteor shower fills the heavens with so many shooting stars and, in keeping with the tradition of the feast, wishes are made to San Lorenzo with every shooting star that is seen! 

Legend has it that the shooting stars are the tears that San Lorenzo shed when he was being martyred so many years ago.  Even though the original situation was a bit sad, the Italians have managed to put a positive spin on this tragedy.  Many towns in Italy celebrate this holiday with parties, dances, and lots of hoopla in the piazzas!  Of course, since it occurs during August when most of Italy is on holiday, the Italians are all ready to party and have fun!

Another summertime feast day with a wonderful tradition attached to it is the feast day of St. John the Baptist on June 24th.  This tradition is followed mostly in Umbria, but many other parts of Italy celebrate it as well.  At sunset of the night before,  100 plants, herbs, and flowers are collected and placed in a bowl along with some water.  The bowl is left outside all night, thus insuring that the first dew will enter the water.  This dew is believed to be holy water from Heaven. 

The next day, June 24th, people will use this holy water to wash their faces and bathe their newborn babies.  The scented water will protect them all year with the blessings of St. John the Baptist.

These small traditions are so special because they are simple blessings – everyone can enjoy them, no matter what their social status.¬† Perhaps I am still in time to¬† make a wish upon a star ūüôā¬†

Stella, mia bella stella, desidero che….