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Piazza San Pietro. Photo courtesy of International Photo Correspondent Donato Narducci Piazza San Pietro. Photo courtesy of International Photo Correspondent Donato Narducci

Fucacoste e cocce priatorje is dialetto Orsarese for ‘Falò e teste del Purgatorio’.  This translates to ‘Bonfires and heads from purgatory’. It is an ancient festival unique to Orsara di Puglia celebrated on November 1st, the night of ‘Tutti i Santi’ (All Saints Day).  All Saints Day was created in the 9th century when the Pope superimposed a Christian feast day onto existing rituals, so this festa has been around for a very long time.  It is a night where people have the opportunity to honour, reconnect and pay respect to the spirits of their loved ones.  Carabinieri estimate that Orsara (pop 3,000) had 40,000 visitors attend the festa tonight, with 9,000 cars parked up to 3 km away!

2014 poster for Fucacoste e cocce priatorje 2014 poster for Fucacoste e cocce priatorje

It is believed that the souls of the dead return among the living to visit their relatives and their former homes before moving on to Paradiso.  The bonfires are lit with wood and branches of ginestra (broom). The light of the fires and the crackling and sparks of the ginestra attract the spirits to reunite the living with those who continue to live only in their memories.  The souls of the dead loved ones collect ashes from the fires. The gleam of light inside ‘cocce priatorje’, pumpkins carved to look like heads-light their way to find their former home.

Preparation for the  festa involves gathering firewood and ginestra, preparing food and carving zucche (pumpkins).  There is even a BYOZ (bring your own zucca) pumpkin carving workshop.  Later in the evening zucche are exhibited and there is a contest for ‘la zucca più bella’-the best zucca.

In honour of the dead, simple but symbolic foods are prepared.  These include potatoes, onions, salsicce (sausages) and castagne (chestnuts) cooked in open fire. Muscitaglia is a traditional dish served on November 1st which probably dates back from the ancient Greeks and Byzantines. Muscitaglia (moo•shee•tah•lyah) in both Greek and Latin is made up of the words mosto (wine must) and talia (grain). The ingredients include boiled grain and vino cotto (literally cooked wine-also called mosto cotto). Pomegranate seeds and walnut pieces are sometimes added. These ingredients are symbols of fertility and abundance, but also of honour and respect for the dead.

Muscitaglia Muscitaglia

When the campanile (church tower bell) strikes 1900 hours (7 pm), Orsara di Puglia ‘catches fire’. Over 100 bonfires are simultaneously lit in every street and piazza and remain lit through the night.  The fires, pumpkin lanterns, music and people in the streets create a magical, enchanted atmosphere. In 2017 I attended the festa and took photos.  They are in the post Tutti i Santi.

Fucacoste e Cocce Priatorje has often been confused with Hallowe’en, but it is a very different event.  Besides the fact that the date is different, dressing up in costume is not part of the custom, there is nothing scary about it and there are no evil spirits to chase away. It has more similarities with the Mexican Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead.  This is an event about being together in community to celebrate the bond between the living and those who we remember in our hearts, and to remind us that our time on earth is precious.

Watch the video ‘#quinonèhalloween’ featuring 94 year old Z’Gaetan talking about the festa and its significance  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9W5RD0-9H-A

Read about tonight’s festa (in Italiano) on the Comune di Orsara di Puglia website.  For more about Orsara di Puglia read the post ‘Benvenuti ad Orsara di Puglia’.  Ci vediamo alla festa!

Fucacoste e Cocce Priatorje, Fontana Sant'Angelo, Orsara di Puglia 2014. Photo courtesy of Donato Narducci Fucacoste e Cocce Priatorje, Fontana Sant’Angelo, Orsara di Puglia 2014. Photo courtesy of Donato Narducci