Muscitaglia (moo•shee•TAH•lyah) is a traditional dish served on November 1st in Orsara di Puglia. It probably dates back from the ancient Greeks and Byzantines. Muscitaglia, 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, which is actually mosto cotto- boiled down grape must which becomes a thick, sweet liquid. Pomegranate seeds and walnut pieces are also added when available. These ingredients are simple and symbolic of fertility and abundance, but also of honour and respect for the dead.
November 1st is the night of Tutti i Santi (All Saints), a night which provides the opportunity to reconnect and pay respects to deceased loved ones. My post on the ancient festival Fucacoste e Cocce Priatorje which takes place in Orsara di Puglia has more information on the traditions and festivities.
Watch the video ‘#quinonèhalloween’featuring recently deceased Zi’ Gaetan talking about Fucacoste e Cocce Priatorje and its significance. I’m sure a few homes in Orsara will put out a chair tonight for Zi’ Gaetan so he can rest on his way to Paradiso. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9W5RD0-9H-A
Piazza San Pietro. Photo courtesy of International Photo Correspondent Donato Narducci
Tonight is a big festa in Orsara di Puglia, so I am reposting this from last year.
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 the town of 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
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.
When the campanile (church bell tower) 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.
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.
Today is la Festa dell’Epifania in Italia, celebrating the arrival of i Re Magi (the 3 Wise Men) Gasparre, Melchiorre & Baldassarre with their gifts of oro, incenso e mirra (gold, frankincense and myrrh) for newborn Bambino Gesù (baby Jesus).
The night between January 5th and 6th is also the 12th night between Christmas and the Epiphany, and marks the end of the Christmas holiday season. As the proverb says, ‘L’Epifania tutte le feste porta via’. What does this have to do with La Befana, the ‘Buona Strega’?
La Befana is the traditional ‘gift-bringer’ in Italian folklore. According to legend, which varies from region to region, she is an old woman who prides herself on being a good housekeeper. While she was sweeping, the 3 Wise Men stopped at her house to ask for directions to Bethlehem. She didn’t know the way but they invited her to join them to greet the newborn king and bring him gifts. She was quite abrupt and told them she had housecleaning to do and could not possibly join them.
Once they had left, she realized she had made a very big mistake not going with them. Befana quickly gathered food and gifts for the newborn King into a sack and uno scialle (a shawl) in case she was cold and set off to join the Wise Men. She even brought her scopa (broom) so she could sweep the floor for Bambino Gesù. Befana searched and searched but could not catch up to the 3 kings. She did not know they had taken a different route home.
To make up for the opportunity she missed, every year on the eve of l’Epifania, Befana flies on her broom delivering small gifts to children, in the hope that one of them is Bambino Gesù. Traditionally she fills calze (socks) with ‘caramelle o carbone’ (candies or coal). She leaves dolcetti (sweets), fichi secchi, noci, mandarini, cioccolatine (dried figs, nuts, mandarine oranges, little chocolates) and torrone for children who have been nice and leaves carbone (coal), cenere (ashes), cipolle e aglio (onions and garlic) for cattivoni (naughty children). Christmas markets in Italia sell black candy that looks like lumps of coal! A glass of vino and mandarini or biscotti are left on the kitchen table for La Befana and she sweeps the floor before she leaves. La Befana and her broom also symbolize the old year that is ‘swept away’ after the Christmas festivities.
Her name comes from Epifania which turned into Befania in dialetto and eventually Befana. ‘Una Befana’ can also mean an ugly old hag. If someone calls you a Befana it is not a compliment-unless they are referring to your gift-giving generosity!
‘La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
S’è scucito la sottana
Viva viva la Befana!
Porta cenere e carboni
Ai bambini cattivoni
Ai bambini belli e buoni
Porta chichi e tanti doni!’
Oggi è la festa dell’Epifania in Italia. Si ricorda la visita dei tre Re Magi a Betlemme con regali di oro, incenso e mirra per il neonato Bambino Gesù. La notte tra il 5 e il 6 gennaio è anche la dodicesima notte dopo il Natale e la fine delle feste Natalizie. Il proverbio dice ‘L’Epifania tutte le feste porta via’. Ma questo che c’entra con La Befana, la buona strega?
Si dice che La Befana era una vecchietta molto preoccupata con il lavoro di casa. Mentre scopava fuori, i Re Magi hanno chiesto se lei conosceva la strada per andare a Betlemme perchè là era nato il nuovo Re. La Befana non conosceva la strada. I Re Magi l’hanno invitata ad andare con loro a portare dei regali al Bambino, ma lei ha detto che aveva troppo lavoro da fare e non era possibile. Dopo che se n’erano andati, La Befana ha capito che aveva sbagliato e ha deciso di raggiungere i 3 Re per andare a trovare il Bambino Gesù. Con uno scialle e un sacco con dolcetti e regali sulle spalle se n’è andata. Ha portata anche la scopa, per pulire il pavimento per il Bambino Gesù. La Befana ha cercato dappertutto ma i Re Magi erano già troppo lontani. Allora, ogni anno, nella notte tra il 5 e 6 di gennaio, volando cavalcando la scopa, La Befana porta regali ai bambini nella speranza che uno di loro sia il Bambino Gesù. Lei reimpie le calze dei bambini con ‘caramelle o carbone’. Dolcetti per i bambini bravi e cenere e carbone per i cattivoni. Si lascia un bicchiere di vino e un mandarino o biscotti sul tavolo per La Befana e lei scopa il pavimento prima di andare via.