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Top 7 Weirdest Rituals In Italy

written by M.E. Evans April 4, 2016

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.


Image: http://cdn.images.express.co.uk/img/dynamic/80/590x/women-ironing-601202.jpg

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




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Erin OConnor April 4, 2016 at 3:23 pm

You’re funny! And your hubby is hot. 😊👍💃🏻


M.E. Evans April 4, 2016 at 3:45 pm

Hahaha 😍😍😘😘😘😘

Melanie April 4, 2016 at 4:07 pm

So funny! I love the one (not really a ritual, just a ‘thing’) about catching your absolute death of cold if you spend even 2 minutes with wet hair!!! And the planting by the moon thing – our Italian neighbours (in Le Marche) used to swear by this… vegetables that are planted correctly according to the moon cycles are better tasting and healthier (think it’s a Steiner thing too, so not just weird Italian stuff! 😉

Un po' di pepe April 7, 2016 at 5:51 pm

Melanie the planting by the moon cycle is related to the tides and is a real thing! It has to do with how much water the soil holds. I always listen to my Papà and the moon cycle when planting anything and I have the best garden in my neighborhood😀

Denise June 1, 2016 at 4:21 pm

I live in northern Italy with my Italian companion, and before I even have 1 toe out of the shower, he has the hair dryer so close to my face that I feel as though I’ve started an intimate relationship with said dryer. Why? Because you don’t dare walk around, not even for 1 minute with wet hair, or just like you said, “You’ll die of pneumonia” .

I hate hair dryers. I air dry – saves energy, saves time, saves lives. My companion, swears every time I’m going to catch influenza and die. Yet, he’s the one I see 2 days later sniffling and coughing. Oh how life is grand!

So I totally get what you’re saying, Melanie!

Lee April 4, 2016 at 4:09 pm

Being a 3rd generation Sicilian-American, I simply cannot understand why men and women in Sicily cannot be platonic pals in 2016. I would find that to be a difficult way to live and work. Do they ignore the opposite sex? Do they look away? Is it all jealousy-based or maybe a control thing? Either way, it’s so out of my realm of understanding. I do love Sicily and I def love learning about it, but this is one thing I don’t get.
Now here in America, I do remember my grandma yelling at my grandpa bc he held a baby in church to help this young mom. Grandma proceeded to accuse him of cheating. The yelling went on ALL day long. Lol! It was way too ridiculous. The baby’s mom was around 25 & my grandpa was 75. He was the sweetest, mousiest guy ever and would never cheat, but Grandma berated him like he was a player! Too funny! She was livid.
Luckily, my parents ended that tradition and my hubby & I def don’t have jealousy issues.
One more thing…my mom told me that when her grandparents died, they were in the coffin in their living room for 5 days. She said it was beyond terrifying and gross. During the daytime, endless streams of visitors came bearing Italian foods & sweets….as if anyone had an appetite. My mom is now 75 and she said those days still haunt her. When she was a little girl she would be in her bed at night thinking, “Ewwww….Nonna is downstairs and she’s dead.” Rest in peace, Bisnonna. Lol! No disrespect intended! I love my family and all the crazy stories!

Mani (A New Life Wandering) April 4, 2016 at 5:49 pm

In Mexico they do that salt thing too, but I’ve never heard the part about the devil being back there.
I can’t even fold sheets right, let alone even try to iron them.

M.E. Evans April 4, 2016 at 5:50 pm

Hahaha me too!

Tony April 4, 2016 at 7:37 pm

Great post, seems like ages since I have seen one from you…very funny too and totally relatable to my crazy family! 🙂

M.E. Evans April 4, 2016 at 8:04 pm

I know! I’ve been so focused on the book it’s been hard to keep up my blog schedule. I need to get back at it.

Kristie Prada April 4, 2016 at 11:15 pm

Hi there! Great to see another blog we’ve missed you!
Love all these. The salt and reading coffee grounds must be pagan as that happens in my English family too.
One weird thing I encounter is that in the older generation men do not cut up and prepare their own fruit! The women do this job. I was forcefully told this in a ‘you should be doing this’ type way by a well meaning Zio.
The death thing is true when we visit my FIL we sleep in the room that Nonno was kept in when he died. Even the same bed!!! Creepy! So far I haven’t felt anything spooky going on but it’s a bit weird especially as there are lots of those China dolls around in cases. Shiver….

Jenni Midgley April 5, 2016 at 12:00 am

In Puglia there’s a spate of hanged ‘dummy’ bodies (women witches of course) down alleyways, around Pasqua time. I asked a little old guy what it was and he thought it was hilarious – I’m yet to get to the bottom of them (or research) but they are scary as shit!

Denise June 1, 2016 at 4:23 pm

My companion comes from the Puglia – he’s of Bari. I’ll take those hanged ‘dummy’ bodies, any day. Have you heard their dialect?????

giuliacalli April 5, 2016 at 12:22 am

Yeah, I really don’t know why ironing is so important in Italy. I knew people who ironed also their underwear….they had a lot of time to waist I guess.
And the devil is always behind you! That’s why my grandma taught me, when I was a little child, to never look at myself in the mirror during the night, because that’s when the devil shows up. And, even if I’m 33 now, I still remember her words and don’t like mirrors at night 😛

John Kruse April 5, 2016 at 2:20 am

I find the November 1st festivities at the family cemetery to have an importance that I can’t fathom. Maybe it’s a Catholic thing as I think Mexicans are possibly even more serious about it. My father in law is actually distressed by the idea that we won’t visit, bring flowers and clean up the family crypt.
One of my wife’s biggest problems with the US is that pretty much everyone can opt out of traditions. She sees nothing in common among Americans as our holidays are either cartoonish (e.g., Easter bunny) or an excuse to go to the beach.

Un po' di pepe April 7, 2016 at 5:59 pm

Hi John-the ‘festa dei Morti’ or ‘tutti Santi’ on Nov 1st is actually a beautiful ritual if you read up about it. It’s based on the myth of Persephone and Demeter. In my village, Osara di Puglia, there is a huge festival with pumpkins, and bonfires are lit all over town to help the spirits of the dead ascend to Heaven. You can google it ‘Fucacoste e Cocce priatorje’, and I also wrote a post the last 2 years on November 1st. Ciao, Cristina

Diana Macchi April 5, 2016 at 2:24 am

I LOVE your blog!!!!!!!!!!!
I have honestly thought about the death thing too… what would happen if someone would die in an accident, or for whatever reason, was not suitable for ‘viewing’? My MIL lost her husband a couple of years ago to a heart attack. She sent him to a funeral home, saying that it would be too weird having him in the house like that.

Sara April 5, 2016 at 2:37 am

The funeral happens more or less within 24 hours, so no dead people don’t hang out at home for days! But most people kiss the body so yeah that is totally traumatizing, I was forced to when I was 6 and a old uncle died, the trauma still haunts me. My mother is English and she was the one that taught me about the salt thing, as you said a lot of traditions are actually pagan but Christian coated.

Maria Teresa Satta April 5, 2016 at 5:35 am

Very funny! 😀
But, really, things are not the same everywhere in Italy. I am from Cagliari (Sardinia) and there are a few differences.
My comments:
1) Mmmmm… I don’t remember to have ever seen such a ritual for baptism, but the “wedding dress” is true: we still keep my father’s baptism dress, white and long and full of laces. So nice! ^_^ 😉
2) Yes, we hold the wake at home, if the person died at home, but for one day only. Bringing food is considered a kindness, because when a relative dies nobody feels like cooking or doing the shopping.
In little villages it is common to see old widows dressed in black, but new generations are acting differently.
And yes, we also have the tradition of the wailers (called “attittadoras” in sardinian language) but is not very common nowadays. Surely in some villages is still practiced, but not in towns like Cagliari. The mourning took (takes) often the shape of a song, sang by friends and relatives of the dead (mens too) or only by the “professional” mourner. Here is an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePZv9N97ats
3) For Easter, we perform only “normal” rites, like “S’Incontru” (the meeting”) in which the statue of Mary, brought by a procession of women, meets the statue of her resurrected son, brought by men.
Maybe you could find weird the tradition of “su nenneri”: a pot of corn, germinated in the dark and so containing white sprouts, is put near the images of the the Dead Christ on Good Friday. James Frazer in The Golden Bough thinks it is a survival of the Garden of Adonis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adonia#The_Gardens_of_Adonis).
4) Exorcism is not only that fearsome thing shown in the film: Catholic Church think that the Evil in our life comes from the Devil, so a simple ritual of exorcism may help people to face everyday life and troubles, throwing away the Devil and his bad advices. So it is also a a kind of spiritual path.
5) The tradition here is to read the future in the shapes that oil takes in a cup of salted water or on a plate.
There are some healing rituals of pagan origin and slightly christianized, that are called “brebus” (“words”) and consist of acts and formulas performed by a person who inherits the ritual, and is the one allowed to use it but is bound to help everyone asking for it, and for free. This is what I know, but I have never heard of them in Cagliari 🙁
6) I remember ironing sheets and towels a home when I was a child, but, ehm, I have never done it and my sheets are well-looking all the same (mmm, sort of ;).
7) Don’t you throw salt over your left shoulder when spilled? Are you kidding? 😀
And don’t forget to pick up every piece of a broken mirror and to throw them into the sea! Or bad luck will await you 😀 😉


Marie Therese April 5, 2016 at 5:39 am

I’ve noticed something (similar to the ironing “ritual”) here in Italy. Tablecloths. You are NOT allowed to eat without a tablecloth. Even if it’s milk and cookies. My boyfriend’s mother has given us 3 of them, but I’m a rebel and go without 😉

Pecora Nera April 5, 2016 at 6:57 am

Marie Therese, I agree with you. Mrs Sensible goes crazy if I don’t lay a table cloth. If I make her a sandwich it must be presented on a tray with a suitable napkin. Give me a bacon sandwich in my hand and I am as happy as Larry

Misty, I didn’t know about the traditional wailers, do you think I. could get some for when I go to the dentist?

M.E. Evans April 5, 2016 at 7:56 am

Hahaha! Let’s find out!

Pecora Nera April 5, 2016 at 8:17 am

It’s worth a try, maybe they can drown out my cries of anguish

Marie Therese April 5, 2016 at 8:15 am

Too funny 🙂

Danielle April 5, 2016 at 6:54 pm

So funny! Missed you lady! Glad to see a post here and there 🙂

Manja Mexi Movie April 6, 2016 at 4:59 am

Hihih, laughing in a fully non-envious manner. I’ve been lucky in so many ways. My family of origin back in Slovenia was in many ways more Italian than my new family at hand. Here all that remains from religious customs is eating a LOT of sea food, which cannot get any better for my tastes. No shirt ironing, no salt throwing, and no coffee fortune-telling (this last was typical of my ex country when it was still Yugoslavia). Must be because they are Romani 😉

Stephanie April 6, 2016 at 2:15 pm

Loved this! Reminded me of so many rules – like you can’t get a cold stomach or neck otherwise you’ll get the fever and die. And no eating on the table without a tablecloth. Or my personal favourite – you have to take your yoghurt out of the fridge half an hour before you eat it. To let it come to room temperature. Because if you eat cold yoghurt, you’ll get a bad stomach and then the fever… See point one! Oh how they make me laugh! 👌

M.E. Evans April 6, 2016 at 2:23 pm

My MIL’s favorite, “Don’t drink cold water! You’ll die!”

Diana April 11, 2016 at 6:29 am

So this is where that water-in-the-face ritual comes from…
When I was 6 or 7 my dad thought it’d be fun to introduce me to this tradition and he popped out from hiding, threw water in my face, and I immediately cried and that was the end of that tradition.
But we don’t have a drop of Italian blood in either side of the family. Could this be a European tradition?
Funny post as always!

Staci Wagner May 4, 2016 at 1:15 am

Love the post. I’m living in Greece and there are many similar rituals. The ironing of the sheets – they do it here as well and I refuse. Seriously, who has time for that?? Keep the posts coming, you are hilarious!

Paula Brink May 26, 2016 at 8:52 am

I love your sense of humour, your blog is my absolute favourite. Mostly though I am writing this morning because in my newspaper, the National Post (Canadian) there is a big article on the front page entitled:”‘ Capybaras still on the run from the zoo.” A male and female called Bonnie and Clyde bolted while being moved and disappeared into a 161 hectare park. A couple of bad-ass capybaras!! I thought you might find that amusing. You can probably find the story online and read it for yourself.

M.E. Evans May 26, 2016 at 11:16 am


M.E. Evans May 26, 2016 at 11:16 am

Thank you so much for the kind words and the capybara info!!!!

Paula Brink May 26, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Glad you like it, I am still chuckling at the visual. Apparently they can run pretty fast and also they can submerge themselves in water for hours with only their nostrils sticking out.

M.E. Evans May 26, 2016 at 12:34 pm

Super ninjas!!!

Samantha June 12, 2016 at 6:19 pm

Im surprised that you have never heard of the salt throwing? It’s common here in Australia too aswell as other superstitions such as not walking under ladders etc. they are not pagan superstitions they are Catholic/ Christian superstitions.
Common things to do in the UK too.


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