Monday, 19 January 2009

St. Anthony

A little while ago, James blogged about a tradition of marking homes with blessed chalk for Epiphany, and that, being Catholics in (post-post-modern?) England, they had no idea about it until it was too late for this year. (I imagine that further google-based research resulted in him finding this.)

I think it was Ella who then asked me via e-mail (I imagine a hopeful tone in her voice) whether we at least did it here in Catholic-land. (We didn't.)

Rather, in England, you've (presumably) all missed out on the St. Anthony celebrations!

The Italians seem to like St. Anthony, and celebrate his feast in various ways, none of which is on English wikipedia, so maybe I'll put something there.

The first thing, chronologically, would be that many hundreds, and thousands, and other units of number, of bread rolls are made, by hand if I understand correctly, by volunteers for the occasion, blessed in the churches and distributed door to door. It's customary to give an offering to the parish, and you then get a number in the raffle (I know, I know) with such solidly Italian prizes as meat and wine.

The rolls are basically eaten just like any other bread rolls would be at dinner, with the cold meats, and used as a means for recovering residual olive oil from one's plate. I was told this, but the idea that blessed bread would probably have some kind of low-key ceremony was quite fixed in my mind, so I waited to see what everybody else did with theirs before I committed myself. If I had any sense I would have taken some photos of all this, but it seems that I don't.

It was good bread.

You also get fried sweets around this time, a bit like doughnuts. Castagnole, they're called, and Monica and her Mum made some. The closest thing I can think of is ring-doughnuts, but perhaps they're a little more dense, and the dough is flavoured somehow.

Next thing would be that, after the 11:00 mass, people come to the piazza to have their stuff blessed. I use the word "stuff" for exactitude. St. Anthony would seem to be a patron of quite a lot of things. People bring their pets to be blessed (with those holy water sprinkly things) because he's the patron of all animals. Some of the dogs didn't seem to want to bless each other though. Children bring their toys to be blessed - I don't know why. People also bring their tractors. Until the moment I actually saw them I thought I had perhaps misunderstood, for I had been advised of this also, but no, there were proper agricultural tractors parked up by the piazza for the holy water treatment. Again, no photos - silly me. Because this is Italy, while a hardcore group of people tried to listen to the blessing and the prayers and work out when they were meant to cross themselves, the rest got down to the serious business of having a chat.

Later on in the same day was a little, um, event, in the youth club. There was more than one apprently. We went to the one that was not marked out as being for youth. There were many older Italian ladies there. I was certainly bucking the trend. There were some drinks and slices of pizza and cake and stuff, and a man performing Italian folk music for people to dance to. He had a squeezebox. From what I hear of Italian folk music, it's mostly more cheery and cheesy than ours, and I daresay it's identical to the kind of thing they play in the tourist traps.

And that's the way we roll around here.
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