Everything in Italy is a weird ritual from blessing babies, to Mary’s flying through the air and chasing down a crucified Jesus, to ironing sheets. Seriously, a whole lot of weird going on. Since I don’t have all of the time in the world to go through ALL of them, I’ll have to settle for the top 7 weirdest rituals in Italy.
Baptism: When my niece was baptized I remember standing at the church door just thinking that the entire thing was objectively kind of weird. They basically put my infant niece in a wedding dress (like they were marrying her to Jesus), walked her up to the front holding her on the left side like a football (right side for boys) for good luck, strapped a garter belt on her head, and then handed her off to the priest who looked slightly drunk, and dangled her in the air all Lion King before dumping water on her and pissing her off.
Death: My husband told me that when his grandpa died they held the viewing in his house, so, there was just a dead grandpa hanging out, in the house, for days. It seems like the kind of thing that might traumatize kids. I asked him what would happen if someone was hit by a car, or otherwise mangled, “would they bring them into the living room to just like, hang out, so you’d be watching jeopardy with your uncle trying to ignore the fact that his head had been lopped off. How does that work?” He stared at me and walked off, probably to find a therapist for his ptsd.
Another weird death tradition is that in the older generations widows wore black for the rest of their lives. In my old neighborhood of Campo Di Marte, an entire group of widows would hold hands and walk around the block together clad in black, like a little cluster of sad rain clouds.
I read that rich Italians from way back used to hire a “wailer,” to come and wail at the grave of the diseased. I’m not sure if that’s true but it brings to mind a lot of questions like, how does one get that job, and are there different prices for different levels of loud mourning? Twenty-bucks for weeping, thirty for crying, and fifty for an extremely loud ugly cry?
EASTER: Easter is when shit really gets weird in the boot. My family takes a sticky ass jam jar to the church to fill it up with holy water. Back at the apartment for Easter lunch my MIL will dip rosemary into the jar and splash it around the table. Once she threw it in my face and screamed, “baptismo!”
In Florence they basically blow up a cart. I read that it’s done to celebrate the First Crusade, which is kind of shitty since it’s basically the celebration of murdering hundreds of thousands of muslim men, women, and children (maybe they could rethink this one?), in Prizzi in Sicily they have the Dance Of The Devils where people dress up as devils and harass people in the street. In Sulmona, Abruzzo, a statue of the Madonna is marched in. When she apparently lays eyes on the dead Jesus, she is sprinted across the square to him. During the sprint, her black cloak falls off and doves fly out.
Exorcism: The movie, The Exorcist, scared the living shit out of me when I saw it. I don’t even like the “E,” word, which immediately brings to mind an evil teenager crab-crawling across the floor, throwing up pea soup, and smashing her va-jay-jay with a cross. Nuh-uh, no thank you. So, you can imagine my horror when a friend of ours in southern Italy casually mentioned that he and his girlfriend had gone to their priest for an exorcism due to their recent stint of “bad luck.”
Reading Coffee Grounds: Most of the worlds traditions are actually pagan because as much as organized religions have historically tried to get rid of it (covering it up or renaming old traditions), our world is rooted in our ancestry, which was earth-based. So, as much as Italians are Catholic, they’re super, super pagan. Almost all of their traditions date back to the roman pagan times and a lot of the older generation, especially in the south, still practice a lot of pagan rituals. Like witches. My husband’s grandmother, for example, used to read coffee grounds in the bottom of cups and predict good or bad luck in the future.
Ironing Sheets: This isn’t a REAL ritual, but since every female Italian person I know does it with dedication and an almost religious fervor it basically could be. They’re REALLY into ironing sheets. And towels. They’re really into cleaning in general. Except for those nasty Italian women who lived in our old Statuto apartment before we did. Those assholes and their two-hundred ferrets were gross.Throwing Salt: Recently Francesco was making pizza and he spilled some salt on the ground. He quickly pinched some from the salt bowl and threw it over his shoulder.
“What the shit are you doing? Are you planning on vacuuming after this?”
“Huh? Oh. Bad luck,” he grinned.
Apparently, Google says that this comes from the idea that spilling salt is bad luck, and the devil is always standing behind you, so throwing salt over your left shoulder (into his eyes), distracts him from causing trouble. Which seems wildly illogical to me. Everything that I’ve heard about the devil (mainly from my terrifying mom who has never learned how to be delicate in the delivery of terrifying information), dictates that he’s a super scary asshole. It’s probably best not to piss him off by temporary blinding him. Right?
If there are any other strange rituals that you find particularly interesting in Italy, I’d love to hear about them! Tell us about them in the comments below. And, don’t forget to share this post, and share the weird.
AAAAAAND, THIS IS A C.O.S.I Post! Check out what my brilliant blogging friends from around Italy had to say on the same subject!
Rick’s Rome: Ridiculous Rituals In Italy/Under The Puglia Sun
Sicily Inside And Out: Culture Shock In Sicily
Sex, Lies, and Nutella: Coming Soon
An Englishman in Italy: Coming Soon
Girl in Florence: Coming Soon