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The Sicilian tradition of All Souls’ Day told by Andrea Camilleri

November 2nd is All Souls’ Day, in Italian Il giorno dei morti. The writer Andrea Camilleri (1925-2019), well known and loved in Italy and all over the world thanks to his Commissario Montalbano, talks about his childhood and the Sicilian tradition associated with this holiday.

Reading comprehension in Italian for B1 with English translation. Too difficult for you? You can simply read the text in English to learn more about Italian culture! 

The Sicilian tradition of All Souls' Day

told by Andrea Camilleri

camilleri • The Sicilian tradition of All Souls' Day told by Andrea Camilleri

Quando ero bambino ricevevo il regalo il 2 novembre, il giorno dei morti, perché la tradizione voleva che di notte i morti tornassero nelle loro case e portassero i regali ai loro discendenti.

Prima di andare a dormire mettevamo sotto il letto un cestino e aspettavamo che il morto o la morta di casa, a cui avevamo scritto una letterina, come si fa oggi con Babbo Natale, ci portasse i regali, ovvero dei dolci. Non avevamo paura del morto, anzi era bello sapere che fosse in qualche modo presente. 

Quindi di mattina, appena svegliati, andavamo alla ricerca di questo cestino, che non si trovava più sotto il letto. La ricerca dei regali era una cosa fantastica. Dopo aver trovato il cestino andavamo tutti assieme al cimitero per ringraziare il morto che ci aveva portato i regali. Quel cimitero il 2 novembre si animava come a festa, perché noi bambini, nei vialetti, ci scambiavamo i doni, e il giorno dei morti era una festa meravigliosa

Poi nel 1943 arrivarono gli americani, lentamente i morti persero la strada di casa e vennero sostituiti dall’albero di Natale. Credo che però le tradizioni non si perdano del tutto. Non si trovano più i regali, i bambini non mettono più il cestino sotto il letto. Ciò non toglie che tutte le pasticcerie siciliane, per il 2 novembre, preparino quei dolci speciali che servivano una volta per il cestino dei bambini. Mi riferisco ai pupi di zucchero, alla frutta di Martorana, dolci di marzapane a forma di frutta, oppure a quegli squisiti dolci di miele detti ossa di morto. Questo è un modo di conservare comunque la memoria delle tradizioni.

Translate

When I was a child, I received the gift on November 2nd, All Souls’ Day, because tradition wanted the dead to return to their homes at night and bring the gifts to their descendants.

Before we went to bed, we put a basket under our bed and waited for the deceased of the house to whom we wrote a letter, as we do today with Santa Claus, to bring us the gifts, i.e. sweets. We were not afraid of the deceased, on the contrary, it was nice to know that he was present in some way. 

So in the morning, as soon as we woke up, we went to look for this basket, which was no longer under the bed. The search for gifts was a great thing. After we found the basket, we went together to the cemetery to thank the dead who had brought us the gifts. This cemetery became as lively as a festival on November 2nd, because we children exchanged gifts in the alleys and All Souls’ Day was a wonderful celebration.

Then in 1943 the Americans arrived, slowly the dead lost their way home and were replaced by the Christmas tree. But I don’t believe that the traditions are completely lost. You can’t find presents anymore, the children don’t put the basket under the bed anymore. Nevertheless, on November 2nd, all the Sicilian pastry shops prepare the special sweets that were once used for the basket. I mean the sugar dolls, the Frutta di Martorana, marzipan sweets in the form of fruit, or the delicious honey cakes, so-called bones of the dead. In this way the memory of traditions is preserved.

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