Monday, November 2, 2009

The night of the dead

All over the world, these days are devoted to the dead, and different places remember them in different ways.

In the United States, as well as in the UK, it's Halloween, with plentiful witch-like costumes and parties. Some if Italian biggest cities like to celebrate Halloween in a proper US way, but in Sardinia something very different happens in the night between the 1st and the 2nd of November.

My mother has always told me that since her very first memories she remembers her mother preparing the dinner for the dead, who would come during the night and eat it. Every year, the scenario sees my grandmother preparing tomato-sauce spaghetti, a bit more than usual as some is for the family, some for the dead. After their own dinner, my grandmother would leave a bowl with the rest of the spaghetti, a bottle of red wine and the table set for a proper meal, strictly in odd number.

When my grandfather was alive, he would get up and eat the rest of the spaghetti when the children were already in bed, so that the morning after everything was gone. Now, the spaghetti stay there until next morning and are eaten for lunch.

This tradition is very felt in Sedilo, to the extent that when my grandparents migrated to France, they kept doing it every 1st of November.

However, not everywhere in the island this tradition is either followed, nor desirable. On that night adults would tell mystery stories to children, and in the area there is plenty of options as Sardinian people have kept myths, traditions and mysteries of their ancestors. Just, when I was a child these stories have given me shivers more than once, while now, I'm a big girl, "brave" and not a very easy believer.

Of course my grandmother kept telling stories, for the generations of cousins, nephews and nieces that followed mine. I like listening to them, more to remember my childhood than to get scare. Until last night.

I was at my grandma's with some other family members and we were talking about past family history, without forgetting to mention the dead, of course, in line with the general mood. From here to the 1st November traditions the gap was quickly filled: while in Sedilo they remember their dead by leaving them a ready meal, in Nuoro's province they just bring them flowers. Nothing spooky so far.

So yesterday they told me about a lady, from Nuoro's province, who didn't know about this tradition of leaving the dinner ready all night but, once heard of it, was fascinated by it. To the extent that she wanted to try it: so she prepared dinner, ate some herself before going to bed and then left the table set all night: she was found dead the morning after. The very first time she prepared dinner for her dead (of which she ate some herself, according to tradition), was also the very last time she prepared dinner at all, making it become a proper meal for the dead.

In Sardinia, inexplicable events have always taken place, and throughout the centuries the mysterious element has played an important role in the local society. When you hear black-dressed old ladies whisper, very likely the reason is that they are talking about something paranormal (or gossip, very likely, too, not really paranormal but equally saucy). 

Getting closer to the local society and its traditions might turn out more amusing than expected, so if you like the topic feel free to ask your Sardinian friends to tell you about some quirky fact: you'll certainly find willing story-tellers, and every time some further detail to the story is added.

2 comments:

Historical Travel said...

What fascinates me is how customs change and evolve, to the point where a name (Halloween) comes to represent something almost completely different from its former meaning.

AngelaCorrias said...

Definitely, evolving customs reflect the society they belong to and studying them is very fascinating.

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