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Repent, it's Lent

by Marcello Parmeggiani last modified 2008-06-20 15:12

Ritual burnings and traditional feasts. AlI the customs of Lent

All over Italy the beginning of the Lenten period is celebrated in a myriad of ways.

A stuffed puppet in the form of an old lady is hung from a rope tied between two balconies.In Martina Franca, in Apulia, a tradition called Quarantana (in Calabria it's called Corasìsima) is still going strong. A stuffed puppet in the form of an old lady is hung from a rope tied between two balconies. A plastic bag holding a bottle of wine, an orange and six biscuits is hung from the old lady. Each Sunday in Lent one of the biscuits is removed and by Easter Sunday the bag is empty.

The celebrations in Valdichiana take a more macabre turn with "Segalavecchia" (literally 'saw the old lady') where an ironic mock trial is followed by the demise of the aforesaid granny, and celebrated in this traditional song. In Pordenone tradition is equally cruel during the "Rogo della Vecia" (burning the old lady at the stake) which finishes, as you may imagine, with an old lady - thankfully in puppet form - being burnt, as a way of getting rid of all the year's problems and adversities. Both "Segalavecchia" and "Rogo della Vecia" take place half-way through Lent. Indeed similar traditions where a old lady is tried and punished in front of the local community are common in many towns and villages in Northern and Central Italy as well as throughout a wide area of Catholic Europe going from Hungary to Portugal.

Lent is a time of fast and people generally abstain from rich foods such as meat and dairy productsLent is a time of fast and people generally abstain from rich foods such as meat and dairy products. However if you were lucky enough to be in Calabria or Sicily on Saint Joseph's Day (March 19th) you may have taken part in the local custom of sharing your meal with the poor. In the past people ate bread and chickpeas (in Calabria Saint Joseph is also known as "u ciciararu", the chickpea man) while nowadays a spread of omelettes, vegetables, cheese and bread is more common. The tradition is particularly strong in Salemi (Trapani), Santa Croce Camerina (Ragusa), Ramacca (Catania) and Riesi (Caltanissetta). Saint Joseph's Day is also celebrated in Scicli (Ragusa) where a flower-adorned horseback parade of the Holy Family takes place through the streets of the town on the afternoon of the 19th.

On the banks of Lake Trasimeno just outside Perugia tradition has a sweet tooth. Indeed on the first three Sundays of Lent in the lakeside towns of Sant’Arcangelo, Fontignano and Montali you can eat 'Torcolo' - a delicious Lenten cake made from flour, sugar, eggs and the best local oil. In the past the ring form of the cake meant it was associated with engagement announcements or given as a practical joke to unmarried women, but now it's just another chance to tuck in to tasty local produce.
Easter traditions in Manfredonia - This journey to the Apulian town of Manfredonia illustrates all the local customs and popular sayings associated with the Lent and Easter period. (In Italian only, but an English version is on its way any day.)
Saint Joseph in Calabria
Saint Joseph's Day traditions in Salemi
Lenten celebrations in Sicily
Torcolo - a special Lenten cake from Umbria
A recipe for torcolo

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