Capetiempe in Abruzzo – The Farmers’ New Year

Capetiempe Abruzzo

Abruzzo’s traditional New Year was known as ‘Capetiempe’ & loosely spanned the nights of 31st October through to the 11th November. Through a local folk tale, Favole e Leggende d’Abruzzo explores this time that welded death and rebirth, practised in many areas of Abruzzo till just after the 2nd World War.  It was a time governed by the agricultural calendar, a time of reconciliation.  To recount and interpret they have used a well-known folk tale from the  Peligna Valley,  also known as the ‘Conca di Sulmona’ a plateau that stretches between the provinces of Pescara and L’Aquila.  You thought you knew everything about Halloween read on…

“The harvest was over. The oil and the new wine were finally ready. Grandfather always said that this was the most important time of the year for those who worked the land. Even though he had known him when he was little, the memory of his grandfather for Giacomo was always alive, as were his advice and his stories.

The days were getting shorter and the sun getting paler.
October 31 was approaching.

Giacomo and his brother Filippo were eager to help their mother and grandmother prepare the house for the arrival of their loved ones: candles in the windows and along the road, pumpkins carved with a candle inside and then the table with many tasty dishes, which had been set up for a party, ready for the night of the 31st. In the meantime, the father was helping in the village to set up the bonfires, made of reeds and dry branches and almost two meters high. They would be lit the same night to illuminate the whole valley.

Finally, the long-awaited day arrived.

That evening everything was ready.
Giacomo and Filippo were impatient to welcome the relatives, but with great amazement, they saw that the grandmother, the mother, and the father began to eat without waiting for them. Many seats remained empty and there were still many dishes on the table even after they had finished eating.

But why hadn’t they arrived yet?  Who were these relatives?

None of these questions were answered. It was time to go to sleep, they got up and said goodnight.

The two brothers stayed awake for a long time to see the light of the bonfires from their bedroom window.

They had just fallen asleep in front of the glow that came in from the window when they were awakened by certain noises coming from downstairs.

They opened the door of their room and they heard the clink of glasses and cutlery and a great shouting of people cheerfully joking and laughing.

As they approached the stairs, without being seen, they heard those people toast things that had happened long ago, remembering the old days. It was then that Giacomo recognised his grandfather!

He rushed down the stairs and went to hug him.
He introduced him to Filippo, whom he had never known but who looked so much like him. The grandfather introduced them to their great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, and many other ancestors whose names and kinship they could not understand well.

It was a happy band!
Giacomo and Filippo told their grandfather about school, about friends, about walks with their mother, about the help they gave to their father in the fields … and how that year their father was very worried.

A very harsh winter was expected which would compromise both the sowing and harvest next year. Then the great-grandfather intervened, telling them of a similar difficult year long ago, which the grandfather remembered all too well. Even the great-great-grandfather had experienced a difficult winter in his time. Therefore their advice was invaluable.

By now the first light of dawn was breaking and it was time for them to go. “Same day, same time! To next year!” they said in chorus. Giacomo and Filippo, very tired, went to bed and fell asleep.

When winter arrived, harsh as predicted, Giacomo and Filippo reminded their father of the advice they had been given. The harvest was thus saved thanks to the experience of their grandparents, great-grandparents, and all ancestors, which the children had treasured and which they would always carry with them.”

This traditional folk tale incorporates Abruzzesi traditions which have their roots in ancient pre-Christian pagan rites. Such tales were commonplace across Europe in the first centuries of the Middle Ages, continuing through until just after the Second World War in the Peligna Valley, where this tale comes from.

In the Abruzzese New Year, called Capetiempe (a direct descendent of the Celtic New Year, ‘Samhain’), this was the cultural practice amongst the ‘common’ folk.  It represented the period of union in the circle of time between the end and the rebirth of the agricultural year.

Between the nights of October 31st and November 1st, amid the hardening autumn, when nature is extinguished and the rule of the dead mixed with that of the living, propitiatory, reconciliation rites were put in place. These were intended to help the sun by strengthening the light with torches and bonfire rites, appeasing the dead and securing their help via funeral rites, helping to weld the ring of time and guaranteeing continuity and rites of passage.

The Peligna Valley’s ‘New Year’ has the same cultural matrix of Halloween as that of the USA, with which it shares the period, the texts and the symbolism: carved turnips that later became pumpkins, skulls, candles and so on..  ‘La Tavola dei Morti’, the table laid all night for those deceased is a custom that remains to this day, still alive in some Abruzzo homes.  According to tradition, on the night called ‘La Sera del Ritorno’ (‘The Evening of the Return’) the table was set and the door of the house was left ajar to welcome the dead into their familiar homes, while the next day the leftover food would be distributed amongst the poor. In some locations, these celebrations began on 31st October and ended on 11th November 11th, and they remain partly alive today, through the fusion they have undergone with the Christian feasts.


Fables and Legends of Abruzzo, by the Bongiovanni family

Fables and Legends of Abruzzo, by the Bongiovanni family

Favole e Leggende d’Abruzzo is a book that presents a new way of travelling for families, in nature and ancient and wild Abruzzo, a collection of 6 illustrated folk tales, inspired by real events or medieval legends, each followed by a tourist path through the places of the story … The book also contains a drawn map of Abruzzo which contains 6 tourist routes, each marked with a different color. It is a book for children (but also for parents and grandparents !!) to promote our beautiful Abruzzo differently, through the eyes of children … between magical and enchanted places.    Read the review here, buy here.


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Sam Dunham
Author: Sam Dunham

Sam is a very lucky midlife 'mamma' to A who is 12 and juggles her work as a self-employed freelance SEO food and travel copywriter and EFL teacher. She is the founder of the Life In Abruzzo Cultural Association, co-founder of Let's Blog Abruzzo. she is the founder of the 'English in the Woods' initiative, teaching English outdoors in a forest style school.

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