Versione Italiana

 

THE TRADITIONS

 

Sant'Andrea has had costumes and traditions closely related to a peasant way of life which is rapidly disappearing.
The land, although harsh and difficult to plough had been the main form of subsistence for its inhabitants.
Now largely deserted, its people have emigrated in search of better fortune initially to the Americas and later to various parts of Europe or to the big Italian cities, especially Rome and Milan.
Therefore, a lot of what is told in these pages no longer exists, but it is nevertheless part of our history, our roots

 

DWELLINGs AND CLOTHING

The people of Sant'Andrea had traditional customs that either have vanished or are fast disappearing.

We know that the more affluent lived in two storey houses of two rooms that consisted of a lower floor (catuaiu) and where access was gained to the first floor from an external staircase. The rest of the population, the majority land labourers and farmers and a few artisans, lived on the ground floor of badly lit houses with low ceilings, built in stone, bricks and red clay. In each of these quarters there lived a family. In a corner of the room there was the bed for the parents, in another corner of the room slept the offspring, in a third the permanently lit sacred hearth, and in the fourth were amassed the chickens, the goat or the piglet.

In the evenings, the family came together around the fire to eat a meagre dinner laid on the mother's lap, in a single big and deep plate or on a saucepan resting on a tripod and consumed their meal under the light of an oil lamp or the flames of the fire.
It followed the recitation of the Rosary and they all would retire for the night. If anyone had unavoidable requirements to go out, he would light the way with a firebrand or with a rag dipped in oil, as the village was enveloped in the deepest silence and the pitchest black.

At four o'clock in the morning the bell would ring for matins and the peasants, after attending the earliest Mass ('a Missa a prima), would set off to the countryside to start their working day. 
Men would wear knee length trousers, deep blue socks, leather shoes and a short jacket buttoned to the neck from which you could see the collar of the spotless white shirt, homespun by their women. A lightweight beaver headscarf down to their shoulders (u bertinu) and in the winter a long cloak made with rough dark wool would defend them against the rain and the wind.

Women wore pleated skirts long to their ankles and pinned at their hips so to reveal the freshly laundered white shirt and a bodice (u dubriattu). The breast was covered by a piece of tough coloured cloth (pettera) firmly secured to the skirt with laces and bows of the brightest colours. 
The loose sleeves were also pinned up at the top of their arms so to reveal the puffed shirt.
Women covered their head with a cloth of white muslin or black silk expertly folded at the higher part of the forehead, thrown back to the shoulders and secured at the nape with a modest or a valuable brooch. 
A home dyed either fitted or flowing colourful apron long to the knees, was secured to the waist by a belt and was adorned by homemade lace.

In the winter women would cover their shoulders with a peasant stole made of wool spun and dyed in Gasperina or Guardavalle (vancala). The less privileged would wear a kind of shawl made with wool spun and dyed in the village (carpituni).
Long earrings and coral necklaces completed the outfit. Children of both sexes up to their seventh year would wear an overcoat made with a lightweight flowery fabric while in the summer they would simply wear a chemise and would go barefooted in all seasons.

Progress has changed all this and no one lives in the catuaiu any longer, no one rides a donkey or indeed walks anywhere but everybody has a decent home with central heating, fridge, television, telephone and mobile phone but … has it really all changed for the better?

 

THE SEASONS AND THE CELEBRATIONS

Every month of the year, the day of our ancestors was dictated by two elements that would impinge on their work: nature and the Church. All farming, craft and domestic activities were subjected to the unpredictable capricious or benevolent whim of the seasons, which were in charge of the daily life periodically lightened by the recurrence of religious festivals.

Therefore, the autumn would begin with the festivity of the eight of September (Immacolata) followed by the grape harvest, the Rosary festival (October), the chestnuts crop, the olive harvest, the seeding and the fiera (fair) of the thirtieth of November (day of the Patron Saint). The latter would open the December festivities with Santa Barbara (Saint Barbara) on the fourth, San Nicola (Saint Nicholas) on the sixth, the Immacolata (the Immaculate), Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy) on the thirteenth and would culminate with Christmas (Natale), New Year (Capodanno) and Epifania (Epiphany, Three Kings).

With February would begin a new period: for agriculture it was a time of pruning and ploughing and Carnival marked the focus for preparing salami and salted meat that would provide the supplies for the year to come.

Spring was the season of the fields: they would dig wheat crops, would plant beans and prepare the vegetable patches (orti) with tomatoes, peppers, aubergines (eggplants) and courgettes (zucchini). It was a period centered on Easter and the Marian month, during which silkworms were farmed and cattle were raised.

June, July and August were the harvesting and storing months of crops such as wheat, vegetables and fruit. Main holidays were Sant'Andrea (the third week in July) and Ferragosto (Midsummer Holiday, the Assumption of Mary).

 

CARNIVAL

Thursday of Lent was the day in wich people would usually kill the pig, nurtured with such care.
That day, at the sound of drums, masked youngsters (i forzari) would go round the village, reading satirical poems in dialect with which would humorously insult certain people with reference to episodes happened during the year. Jokes were often quite offensive and sometimes the wounded party would result to the magistrate.

 The following Sunday the same scene would take place. Tuesday night, the last day of Carnival, the drums would roll and a papier-mâché puppet representing the dying Carnival would be paraded around the village. That day, a man dressed as a woman pretending to cry would sing:

Oh my Carnival, who is so sick 
I do not own a cent but I will nurse you
I will nurse you with sausages and salted meat
Oh my carnival, who is so sick
(Loosely based translation)

The slaughtering of pigs would take place in Piazza Castello under the Clock Tower but later took place in other areas ('a ruga) or agreed locations in the village.

On Ash Wednesday morning they would display at balconies and windows a puppet representing a woman dressed in black wearing six chicken feathers on her head and holding in her hands a spindle and a corncob. During the long period of Lent they would follow a stringent fasting: this would involve eating just twice a day and eat a small amount of meat just once a week.

 

EASTER WEEK

The evening of Easter Thursday the Archpriest would preach from the pulpit recounting the Passion of Christ. Outside the Church, on a frame, there was the statue of the Addolorata (Our Lady of Sorrow). Whoever donated the most during the daily collection would have the honour of holding one of the frame bars during her entrance in the church. At the end of his preaching, the Archbishop would address the Virgin with these words:

 'Come Mary, to see how the sinners have reduced your Son'. 

The main door of the church would sprung open and the Addolorata would be taken hastily (running) under the pulpit surrounded by the weeping crowd while the priest would lay the Crucifix in the hand of Mary.

During the procession of the 'Naca', which would take place Easter Thursday and Easter Friday, as a sign of mourning two wooden instruments rather than the bells would be tolled. (tocche and tirriti).

Saturday before Easter, outside the main entrance of the Chiesa Matrice, the sacristan would light a fire using firestones. This would be kept alive with the help of all the populace.

On Easter Sunday every child would walk through the street of the village holding a cuzzupa (local Easter cake) and waiting impatiently the time of the Cumprunta.
Easter Monday was spent cheerfully in the countryside were they would eat all fresco. However, many would take the trip to Soverato, in where a fair took place and they would buy, amongst other things, pigs to feed for the following Carnival. Also, on Easter Monday the priest would bless the homes and he would collect donations of money and eggs.

 

WEDDINGS

Honour has always been considered sacred and inviolable: transgression was washed with blood. Therefore, every young man who intended to take a wife, would search for his bride amongst the young maidens leaving the church after sung Mass on Sunday, during processions or when the girls would go to fetch water at the fountain. When he had made his choice, he would disclose her name to his parents and ask for their consent.

 The father ask for the hand of the maid to her parents who would wait fifteen days before giving a definite answer. This period of respire was necessary in order to convince the girl and ask the opinion of the family elders.

If it were a positive answer, a day for the official engagement would be agreed. That night, the young man would go to the house of his fiancée accompanied by his parents and the closest members of his family. Here a lavish dinner accompanied by the finest wines would be consumed.

The wedding day was a celebrating occasion for the entire village. A special bell ringing would call the bride and groom (zziti). The groom, flanked by two notables and followed by a cortege of men and women, would go to pick up his bride (zita) from her house. From here started the parade to reach the church.
Dressed with a silky, rustling light blue skirt, a cerise bodice and a white headscarf held into place by a gold brooch, the bride to be would be starting at the head of the parade, accompanied by two married women and trail of other women. Her betrothed would follow, escorted by a never-ending queue of men, youths and a big swarm of boys.

After the ritual of the religious service, the crowd would reassemble in the same order and would proceed to the groom's house. People would crowd squares and lanes, would lean out of balconies and windows to take a glimpse of the married couple and would throw wheat and flowers. The relatives, bursting with joy, would throw iced almonds (confetti) and coins that children would hurriedly pick up, probably administrating the occasional punch in the tumult of the competition.

The women and the groom would gather in one room while the men would assemble in another. They would all enjoy cakes and liquors while wine lovers would retire to the catuaiu (warehouse) in where, between a glass of wine and the other, would feast on fave infornate (sort of baked, crunchy broad beans), nuts, dry figs and biscuits.
Children would noisily crowd outside the door and occasionally would be gratified with a handful of confetti that would inevitably result into a brawl.

At midday there was the wedding lunch broken by repeated toasting to the happy couple. It was followed by music, singing and traditional dances. Later that night, the newlywed would take leave from their parents and, followed by relatives and friends, would go back to the house that the bride brought into the marriage as part of her dowry. 
The day after, the first awakening conjugal day, the couple would receive presents from relatives and friends, who would bring to the new hearth wheat, vegetables, nuts and oil. For three consecutive days there would be feisty, happy banquets. The Sunday following the wedding, the couple would go out together for the first time to attend sung Mass and would arouse the curiosity of all the villagers. That same Sunday the parents of the bride would give a sumptuous dinner for the newlywed and the parents of the groom.

The parents of the zzita (girl) would bring in her linen dowry in wooden boxes and baskets, which the grandmother had patiently spun during the long winter evenings and the mother had sewn up and embroidered, happily singing at the thought of future joy to come. The dowry had requested lots of work and privation and had been bought in large quantities from merchants at fairs and peddlers because in Sant'Andrea, at the time, there were no textile shops. 

 

BIRTHS AND GODPARENTS

When a birth occurred, nothing in particular, except for the intimate joy of the parents, would happen amongst the poorer families. The wealthier families would exchange congratulations and would fire rockets for births as well as for the christening.

Moral and spiritual support was given upon the births by a mammana, an older peasant woman, usually a widow, who would comfort the patient and would recite prayers without concerning herself with the technical complications of the birth. A regularly trained district midwife would oversee the obstetrician aspects of the birth observing the most stringent norms of hygiene. After few days the newborn were taken to the baptismal font. The Christening would form a spiritual bond and the godfather was called compare di San Giovanni (godfather of Saint John), who had been the christener of Our Lord.

One would become compare or comare (godfather or godmother) not exclusively upon a Christening but also with the exchange of bouquet of flowers or a bunch of lavender or various gifts. Among youngsters one would become godfather by pulling out two hairs, holding each other small finger and reciting a solemn verse. This puerile custom, although it appears quite ridiculous, has very ancient origins. Hair has traditionally been considered the best accessory of a free man. Exchanging or tying hairs symbolises a bonding and the promise of undying respect and loyalty. It was also a task of the godfather to cut the nails of the baby for the first time.

 

MOURNING

When somebody was on his deathbed, his family would prepare for the journey of his soul. Beside the support and comfort of religion, his family would donate to the poorest neighbour a large can of water, enough oil to suffice for one night illumination, two loaves of bread or a bowl of flour. These goods were meant to precede the soul of the dying man in order to guide it and nourish it. Upon the demise, would start the moaning, the wailing, the shouting and the clawing. Women would bear their head, would untie their plats, pulling their hair. The weeping of some women was so moving and so unbearably heart wrenching that even the most merciless man would join in the lament and sorrow. 

For three days the bereaved would receive visits of people paying their respects. Friends would send coffee and aniseed to the relatives of the departed. Men would wear black including the shirt, would wear their hat pulled down to the eyes and would grow their beard as a sign of mourning.

Women would wear black from head to foot and would cover their head with a black headscarf (vancala) to hide their face. This would last for several years. The widow would not change her shirt until it fell apart and in the first month of widowhood would sleep fully clothed on the floor or on the dowry trunk.
The closest relatives would not attend public meetings, would rarely be seen in the neighbourhood and would go the Mass at four o'clock in the morning. 

As a further sign of mourning relations would not light the fire for a week or more and during this period godfathers (compari) and friends would send a dinner called ricunsulu (soothing, comforting).

 On All Souls day they would celebrate Masses from two o'clock in the morning until late in the day. Women would enter and exit the church reciting prayers and sprinkle with holy water the tombs that at the time were situated in the floor of the churches.
Wealthy families would cook salted buns (focaccie) and rustic loaves of bread (pitte) and would distribute them to the poor of the parish in memory of the soul of the deceased. 

The cult of the death is today less public and more intimate. On that day everybody go to the cemetery to put flowers on the graves of their dead, light candles and pray with the outmost composure and dignity.

 

POPULAR ENTERTAINMENTS

During the oppressive years of nobility ruling, the peasants of Sant'Andrea did not fail to devise feasts and games as a way of distraction from an already harsh and mortifying existence.

On Sundays a few punters would gather in taverns to play cards, dices and getting drunk. Gamblers and drunkards were only a handful but were notorious and pointed out by the people. The majority of men attended to their business, organising work for the following week. Often in the village would come comedians and clowns that would entertain the population with monkeys and dancing bears to the roll of drums, or staging hilarious farces in the square.

In the afternoon, popular games would take place such as the greasy pole ('ntinna), sack competitions, smashing of saucepans. People would amused themselves and roll with laughter watching the youngsters climbing the greased pole, almost succeeding in reaching the top but falling discouraged and the sack runners that would stumble and fall. Often on Sunday groups of youngsters would play throwing the disk replaced by a whole cheese. 
From the highest point of Piancastello (Castle Square) they would throw the cheese to the lower point. When a cow was slaughtered they would try to hit with a musket the head of the dead animal hanging from a pole. It would all end boozing in the rural houses on the hills in happy company of friends.

The better off would gamble at home or would go to Catanzaro. For few families betting was their downfall.

Children also had their favourite games according to the seasons. Everywhere and at anytime worldwide the main concern of children has being playing and having a good time.

In Sant'Andrea they would play shapes and briquettes and during the festivities also with coins - heads or tails -; in the autumn they would play chestnuts or walnuts, stacking them in groups of five trying to upset them by throwing another chestnut. Was also fashionable a game with sticks called lippa or lignello, popular since Roman times. It consisted of using a short and a longer pointed stick. The game was somewhat dangerous, however it trained the hand to be quick, perfected the eye to precisely hit the shorter stick with the longer one and to judge distances.

At Carnival there was the spinning top (u strumbu) and as Easter would get nearer they would play bowls or tiles and betting a couple of inches of cuzzupa, a sort of rustic Easter cake.

The Saturday before Easter near the steps of the Chiesa Matrice they would play egg breaking: the child whose egg would remain intact was declared the winner.

Worth mentioning is the tendency of children to play war games, as if they were going to anticipate what the adults have always done. Hoards of children from the rivalling districts of Castello and Malaira would run towards Maddalena (another district) fighting with hubs of prickling pears reducing them to shreds.

 

A warm thank you to Giuseppe Armogida for providing the information for writing this page.

The translation is by Anna Mongiardo Goodman

 

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