‘Giving without Asking’
Abruzzo’s purifying fire feste are legendary especially those lit in January to celebrate the Egyptian Saint Anthony Abate. He’s the patron saint of small-holders & farming folk, domestic animals and the protector of the glowing embers of the hearth that keep a house warm and hot food on the table.
If you don’t know him, read about him here, In Everyone’s a Tony – The Story of Saint Anthony Abbot‘, or as local ‘Aquila Professor Vincenzo Battista writes have a look at Bosch’s ‘Temptation of Saint Anthony’ to get a feel of the man.
Historically begging was an acceptable necessity and all sorts of acceptable methods were created to do it, think busking! On a dark winter’s night in the lead to the event, local men or itinerant musicians would come together and perform at each family’s house which became known as ‘Lu Sandandonje’. They would dress up, think country burlesque and perform the Saint’s temptations, the reward from each family being food, seeds and even uccelletti (little pastry birds). Listen to the sound archive of these songs, with their subtle differences across the provinces.
This celebration’s roots stretch back to pagan rites based on the agricultural calendar. This was the time of the year to bless domesticated animals, hoping for their fertility and longevity, the wish and need that they would make it through the winter. It’s a rite that still continues today, members of the community bring along their animals to be blessed by the priest. The communal purgative fires would be lit post the evening Mass, their still-warm ashes scattered on fields the next day, enriching the soil physically and with the power of hope.
January was traditionally the month when pigs were butchered, sausages hung to dry and many families and communities would time their slaughter to coincide with this celebration. Go to most feste and you’ll be offered mulled wine and a sausage panino served with foje, cooked bitter greens cooked in wine with chilli and fenugreek depending on where you are in Abruzzo.
Merriment was and remains key to this event, standing around a bonfire, small or colossal on a cold, winter’s night drinking and eating to keep the cold out is common through all the celebrations, particularly in Collelongo. Attached to this festa is the value of entertainment and storytelling. Sharing food for the common good brings people together when they make it all which can do wonders in beating off January blues, particularly missed during this Covid January!
“Every January (except this year ) the festa is held here at the campsite (Serramonacesca, PE) and is a full day of festivities (that begins the week before with the wood collecting for the fire and the making of the solitary cane bundle). The slaughtering and butchering of the pig is a team effort, as is the sausage-making (which is hung on my washing line!) and the cooking. The cooking and prep start in the morning at the campsite, a long lunch of beans, pasta and pigskin for the village is held, which then rolls on into the evening with the remaining pig barbecued with the burning charcoal taken from the fire. The old folk songs are sung, the traditional play held, and much merriment and music go on into the night.” Jacqui Price, Kokopelli Camping
Fara Filorum Petri
Janet Brady, read Farchie Fara Filiorum Petri: a 7m High of Banging Folklore
Sam Dunham, read San Antonio, Tossicia’s Firestarter