One of the special festivals in Catania that celebrates the fusion of sacred and profane is the Feast of the Dead.
Of course it sounds a bit macabre, but the Feast of the Dead embodies many traditions: from the flowers offered to loved ones on the day of the commemoration of the dead to the toy and shoe fair, as we all called it.
While the whole air was filled with the scent of homemade cookies!
When autumn peeps out every year in Catania, in these days people are starting to prepare for the change of season because, incredible but true, we have been wearing summer clothes so far.
In these busy days, in the evening it was traditional to go to the Fair of the Dead that mixes toy stands for children and shoes for winter just around the corner, a call for many Sicilians from all over.
But tradition said that between the night of day 1 and the day 2, the souls of the dead went to steal toys and sweets from the best artisans and to have a thought for those children of their relatives who had behaved well and who had prayed:
“Armi santi, armi santi, sugnu unu e vuatri síti tanti: Mentri sugnu ‘ntra stu munnu di guai, cosi di morti mittitimìnni assai” (Holy souls, holy souls, I am one and you are many: While I am in this world of troubles, things of the dead put so many)
For children it is a bit of a party trying to understand how this “phenomenon” can happen, which is clearly largely overcome by the thought of gifts!
But the thoughts of the people of Catania run just as much to the souls of their deceased loved ones, to whom the space of a prayer and a usual bouquet of chrysanthemums are dedicated.
There, too, prayer does not run only in one direction, but is dedicated to the soul of one’s loved one, and it also asks for support from up there to those who struggle daily in the maze of earthly life …
The houses of the people of Catania get ready for the fair: there are gifts to buy and carefully hide, spices and ingredients for many types of biscuits, which are found only and exclusively in this period.
Thus the scent of cloves, cinnamon, chocolate, pistachio powder, almonds and honey from Etna pervades many kitchens.
We also prepare the most beautiful embroidered and starched tablecloths, teapots with family services, an elegant cake stand in the centre of the table, you can’t miss it !!!
It is a period of visits and the notoriously hospitable people of Catania are happy to open their homes and offer their relatives these biscuits accompanied by hot tea and coffee.
Conviviality and tradition find their usual combination!
Nzuddi cakes made with almonds, the Ossa de motti or Mustazzoli, very crunchy, two-tone flavoured with cloves, the Rame di Napoli with chocolate.
The Rame di Napoli was a tribute to the unification of the Kingdom of the two Sicilies in 1816, for which a coin was minted with a copper (rame) alloy and also they invented this sweet.
These are just some of the examples of the local tradition that entertain adults, while the children enthusiastic about the gifts received from the “morticini”, have already put aside the usual question of how the gifts “arrived” and, between a biscuit in hand and a toy in the other, they enjoy the party amid the chatter of a reunited kinship.