December 31, 2014

The Feast of San Silvestro I

My lucky skivvies
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
December 31st is the Feast of San Silvestro the First (St. Sylvester I), Pope and Confessor. By happenstance, the day coincides with New Year's Eve and has become entwined with the year-end celebration. Admittedly, most of the popular traditions affiliated with La Festa di San Silvestro have little to do with the Saint's day. 
Typical New Year's Eve celebrations in southern Italy begin with dinner parties. What better way to ring in the New Year than with family and friends? Customarily lentils and pork sausages are served; it's said the food represents wealth and will bring luck and good fortune. Figs are also exchanged so the coming year will be sweet as well. Afterward, people gather around bonfires or get together in the streets and squares to socialize and party. At midnight they watch huge fireworks displays; the one in Naples is sheer pandemonium. (See YouTube video)
Of course, not all the rituals and folklore are related to food. In Naples, for example, some people still throw their old and broken household items out of their windows at midnight, taking the popular saying "Out with the old, in with the new" quite literally. This cleansing ritual symbolizes an optimistic fresh start.
The superstitious also believe smashing plates and glasses on the ground will frighten and chase away evil spirits. At the very least, it is a cathartic release.
Wearing red underwear is another popular custom. The explanations for this curious custom are manifold. For example, I've heard it said that red is a lucky color and symbolizes virility or fertility. Whatever the true meaning is, I won't be taking any chances and will be wearing mine.
Viva San Silvestro! Buon Anno! Happy New Year!
Prayer to Saint Sylvester 
O Loving Father and Saint Sylvester be a tower of strength to Your children, grant us increase, protect us from all harm and present, with your powerful intercession, our prayers to the Almighty. Pray for us, O Holy Father Saint Sylvester that we may be made worthy of promises of Christ. Be present to Your servants, O Lord, and through the intercession of our Holy Father Saint Sylvester, bestow upon us the unceasing help of Your grace so that, by following his example, we may be defended by the protection. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Our Top Ten Post of 2014

A look back at some of our favorite moments of 2014: (L-R) Southern Italian Halloween costume ideas; The Feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Little Italy, NYC; The Feast of Santa Fortunata in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn; Opening Night at Forno Rosso Pizzeria in Downtown Brooklyn; and the unveiling of commemorative markers at Petrosino Square in NYC.
01 The Samnites
02 The Greek Anthesteria in Southern Italy
03 Naples is the Stepchild of Italy
04 Sanguinaccio: From Mexico, Naples to Brooklyn
05 A Review of “The Lady of the Wheel”
06 An Interview with Stephen LaRocca, President of the Saint Rocco Society of Potenza in NYC
07 Una voce per l'eta!
08 Echoes of Gemini: Castor and Pollux from Prospect Park to the Samnites
09 A Look Inside the Santa Febronia Chapel, Hoboken, New Jersey
10 The Book of Mucci: A Warrior’s Tale

(Top L-R) La Conca di San Rocco in Astoria, Queens; the Columbus Day Giglio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn; the Feast of Santa Marina in Inwood, Long Island. (Bottom L-R) the Feast of San Rocco in NYC; and the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and San Paolino di Nola in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Close, but no cigar:

A Look at the 3rd Annual Columbus Day Giglio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Downtown Brooklyn’s Newest Hotspot deserve honorable mention. Perhaps if these posts had as much “air-time” as some of the others they may have made our Top Ten list.

Click here to see last year’s results

Photos by New York Scugnizzo

December 30, 2014

December 29, 2014

Discovering the Blue Vase of Pompeii

The Blue Vase 
Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
Discovered at Pompeii on December 29, 1837, in the presence of King Ferdinand II, the Blue Vase is regarded by many to be the Naples National Archaeological Museum's most prized possession. Considering the institution's vast collection of antiquities from Pompeii, Herculcneum and Stabiae (not to mention the famed Farnese collection) that's quite a claim. 
The Blue Vase is said to have been found in the House of the Mosaic Columns during a Royal inspection. Some have suggested it was planted to impress the noble visitors. Apparently, it was not uncommon for excavators to inhume their finds and wait for an opportune time to unearth the treasure in order to keep their patrons excited and the funds coming in.(1) Continue reading

December 28, 2014

Photo of the Week: "Massacre of the Innocents" by Pacecco de Rosa

Massacre of the Innocents (c.1640) by Pacecco de Rosa (Naples b. 1607—Naples d. 1656), Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo by New York Scugnizzo

The Day the Earth Moved

The 1908 Messina Earthquake Remembered
Earthquake damage at Messina, Sicily
By Niccolò Graffio
“Many people have told me that there were three separate and quite different movements of the earth in that awful minute.  The first was backward and forward, the second upward, the third seemed to be circular.  It was the second that destroyed Messina.  Its violence, the fugitives say, was appalling.  The noise, one man told me, was exactly like that made by a fast train in a tunnel.” – Robert Hichens: After the Earthquake: The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine; pg. 932;  MacMillian & Co. April, 1909   
Archaeologists tell us that in the roughly 2,000 centuries our species has walked the earth we have only enjoyed the "creature comforts" of what we call civilization for about 60 of those centuries.  This transition certainly did not occur overnight, and if one goes by the headlines, there are those who still have yet to become civilized.
Certainly civilization has heaped many benefits upon us as a species.  For starters, there are many more humans on the earth today than at any other time in history. As civilization has progressed technologic-ally, human life expectancy has increased along with it. Continue reading

December 27, 2014

Feast of San Giovanni Evangelista

Viva San Giovanni!
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
December 27th is the Feast Day of San Giovanni the Apostle and evangelist, patron saint of writers and theologians. Widely venerated across southern Italy, he is the principal patron of San Giovanni la Punta (CT), Mariglianella (NA), Teverola (CE), Ailano (CE), Motta San Giovanni (RC), Castellalto (TE), and Paterno (PZ), among others. To commemorate the occasion I'm posting a prayer in his honor. The accompanying photo of San Giovanni was taken at the Basilica Santa Trofimena in Minori.
A Prayer to St. John the Evangelist
O Glorious St. John, you were so loved by Jesus that you merited to rest your head upon his breast, and to be left in his place as son to Mary. Obtain for us an ardent love for Jesus and Mary. Let me be united with them now on earth and forever after in heaven. Amen

La Vigilia and Other Christmas Traditions

Lobster tails
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
Like many Neapolitan Americans, my family keeps the tradition of La Vigilia di Natale, the southern Italian ritual of eating seafood and eschewing meat on Christmas Eve. Despite regular and varied claims to authenticity, I believe the so-called Festa dei sette pesci, or the Feast of the Seven Fishes, is a recent fabrication. Though more lavish then in the past, according to our matriarchs there were never a set number of dishes served. We simply ate what we could afford, and what was fresh and available. 
Today, we normally have shrimp, calamari (squid), clams, mussels and scungilli (whelk), which all can be prepared in a variety of ways. Capitone fritto alla napoletana (fried eel) is usually the main course, but this year we had aragosta (lobster), ricci di mare (sea urchin) and baccalà (salt cod).
As always, the ladies outdid themselves and treated us to another memorable dinner.
Ricci di Mare
Spaghetti alle vongole and sautè di cozze
Insalata di mare
Following the fish bonanza was another southern Italian specialty: panzerotti, delicious crescent-shaped deep fried dough filled with ricotta, mozzarella and tomato or scallion and olives.
Three different types of Panzerotti
Next came fruit, roasted chestnuts, caffè and an assortment of delicious sweets, including cartellate and struffoli, the quintessential Neapolitan Christmas dessert that will satisfy the most stubborn sweet tooth. There is no panettone in my house.
Struffoli, Neapolitan honey fritters
The vigil, of course, is not just about food, it's also about family and faith. 
After dinner we played games (tombola) with the kids and attended Midnight Mass in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Afterward, we walked through the neighborhood to see the spectacular Christmas decorations. My family has been doing this for as long as I can remember, though originally it was in East New York, Brooklyn, where my maternal grand- and great-grandparents were from.
(Above and below) Two dazzling Dyker Heights Christmas displays
Christmas morning we exchanged presents, made the rounds and visited family and friends until dinnertime. No less extravagant than the Eve, Christmas dinner was a culinary tour de force with plenty of hot and cold antipasti, insalata, pizza, baked manicotti and a American-style Christmas ham. Fruit, dessert and caffè complete the meal. 
(L-R) My father's 'famous' Pizza and a shot of Liquore Strega
Not quite finished yet, December 26th is the Feast of Saint Stephen, or Saint Stephen's Day. In honor of Santo Stefano, the first martyr, we usually celebrate with torrone, a sticky nougat candy made from honey, nuts and egg whites that dates back to Roman times. I like mine with a glass of Strega. Buon Natale!
Amended 2014

Ring in the New Year with the Associazione Culturale Pugliese Figli Maria S.S. Addolorata

For more info visit the Associazione Culturale Pugliese
Figli Maria S.S. Addolorata on Facebook

December 26, 2014

Feast of Saint Stephen, the First Martyr

Viva Santo Stefano!
December 26th is Saint Stephen's Day, or the Feast of Saint Stephen the Deacon, the first martyr of the Faith. He is the patron saint of stonecutters, bricklayers, deacons and those who suffer from headaches and migraines. 
Widely venerated across southern Italy, he is the principal patron of Civita d'Antino (AQ), Putignano (BA), Baiano (AV), Santo Stefano in Aspromonte (RC), Santa Elisabetta (AG), Melito di Napoli (NA), and Sessa Cilento (SA), among others. As my chosen confirmation name, the Feast has an additional special significance to me. To commemorate the occasion I'm posting a Prayer to Saint Stephen
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
The accompanying photos were taken at Sacred Hearts of Jesus & Mary and Saint Stephen's Church in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.
A Prayer to Saint Stephen
O Glorious Saint Stephen, first of the martyrs, for the sake of Christ you gave up your life in testimony of the truth of His divine teaching. Obtain for us, dear Saint Stephen, the faith, the hope, the love, and the courage of martyrs.
When we are tempted to shirk our duty, or deny our faith, come to our assistance as a shining example of the courage of martyrs, and win for us a love like your own.
We ask it of you for the honor of Jesus Christ, our Lord, who is the model and reward of all martyrs. Amen.

The Eighth Wonder of the World

Frederick II Hohenstaufen King of Sicily; Holy Roman Emperor
Federico II di Svevia, Palazzo Reale, Napoli 
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
By Niccolò Graffio
“It is very obvious, and no more than natural, for princes to desire to extend their dominions, and when they attempt nothing but what they are able to achieve they are applauded, at least not upbraided thereby; but when they are not able to compass it, and yet will be doing, then they are condemned, and indeed not unworthily.” – Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince, III, 1513
The Kingdom of Sicily, founded by Roderigo (Roger) II on Christmas Day, 1130 passed to his fourth son Guglielmo (William) I upon his death on February 26th, 1154.  Growing up, Guglielmo had little expectation of ever becoming king.  Over the period of 1138-48 his three older brothers (Roderigo, Tancredo and Alfonso) all died under different circumstances, dramatically changing his fortunes.
Alas, Guglielmo had never been prepared for the rigors of kingship, and so his reign was but a shell of his father’s.  His time on the throne was marked by foreign invasions (in which he lost his father’s North African possessions) and by intrigues and revolts at home.  His last years were peaceful, him having made his peace with Pope Alexander III, who was installed in the Lateran Palace in November, 1165 under the protection of Norman guards. Continue reading 

December 25, 2014

Buon Natale!

Holy Family by Salvatore di Franco
Photo by New York Scugnizzo
On behalf of everyone here at Il Regno, I want to wish all of our readers a very Merry Christmas! Peace and joy be with you all.
In celebration I'm posting "The Old Manger" from Prayers and Devotional Songs of Sicily, edited and translated by Peppino Ruggeri.(*) The accompanying photo of the Nativity was taken at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC
The Old Manger
I recollect the old manger at Christmas fest
built by my father, his soul in peace may rest,
the grotto, the straw and the baby poorly dressed
attended by Saint Joseph and Mary blest,

The well, the gleaming houses, the grist mill,
the sheep that grazed the grass over the hill,
a frightened man, at center, a blacksmith on the right,
a shepherd standing, with his old shack in sight.

A comet, resplendent brightly like a star
over the cardboard fashioned into a cave,
guided the adoring kings from afar.

And I, enchanted, watching stood, as I was playing,
sweet angels, shining stars, clouds and songs;
I still do now, the old manger my memory recalling.

(*) Reprinted from Prayers and Devotional Songs of Sicily, edited and translated by Peppino Ruggeri, Legas, 2009, p. 43

The Seeds of the Kingdom

Detail of Christ Crowning Roger II
Church of La Martorana, Palermo
By Niccolò Graffio
“For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings.” - William Shakespeare: Richard II, Act III, Scene 2, 1595.
Walking along the streets of Palermo, Sicily, one gets the feeling of being in a nexus of worlds. Whether one gazes at the Teatro Massimo opera house (the largest in Italy and third largest in Europe), strolls through the Church of Santa Teresa alla Kalsa (an outstanding example of Sicilian Baroque architecture!), walks along the ancient streets of La Kalsa with its many vendors, or peers at the mosaics in the Palazzo dei Normanni, one cannot help but notice the many cultural imprints left by this city’s former rulers.
Equally striking, however, is the level of poverty that exists there! Heavily damaged by Allied bombings during World War II, many of this city’s most majestic buildings remain unrepaired. The reasons? Neglect by both local government and Rome. Resources (financial and material) are severely limited on Sicily. The stranglehold of the Cosa Nostra on the economy is another reason. With most of Italy’s economic wealth concentrated (and kept!) in the North, there simply isn’t enough left to maintain these historic treasures, which are sadly left to crumble. It’s hard to believe less than 1,000 years ago this city was one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest, city in the Mediterranean region. Such, however, was the case. Continue reading

December 24, 2014

A River of Fire in the Land of Bells

The ’Ndocciata, Agnone’s Ancient Fire Ritual
The ’Ndocciata (Photo courtesy of madeinsouthitaly.com) 
By Giovanni di Napoli

In the Molise region of southern Italy, in the Province of Isernia, stands the ancient hill top town of Agnone. Rich in history, art and culture, it is perhaps most famous for the manufacturing of bells. In fact, Agnone is known as the "town of the bells” and boasts the world's oldest foundry, the Pontificia Fonderia Marinelli, which some say dates back to the year 1000.

Agnone also has the distinction of having one of southern Italy’s oldest and largest fire rituals. Known as the ’Ndocciata, which in the local vernacular means "big torch,” the rite began as a pre-Christian “festival of light” in celebration of the winter solstice.

On the shortest night of the year, Samnite tribesmen would travel from the surrounding countryside into the town square with their 'ndocce, large torches bound together in the shape of a fan, where they would erect a huge bonfire. It is said the crackling fire would scare away witches and evil spirits, and the fortunes of the coming year could be foretold by which direction the sparks blew.

However, with the coming of Christianity, the custom was adopted by the Church and became part of the local celebration of the birth of Christ.

On Christmas Eve, hundreds of men and teenage boys dressed all in black will gather at the northern outskirts of Agnone. Carrying their torches over their shoulders, they make their way through the local districts towards the entrance of the town, past the Church of Sant’Antonio Abate (who, coincidently, is the patron saint of fire). Over the years the 'ndocce grew larger and ever more elaborate. Most torchbearers will carry 4 to 8 torches, but those with enough strength, endurance and fervor can carry as many as 20!

Accompanied by zampognari (bagpipers) and the tolling of Agnone’s famous bells, the torchbearers dance and sing Christmas songs as they proceed to the piazza. Celebrants gather around the roaring fire to enjoy the pageantry, festive songs, fireworks, local delicacies and, most importantly, each other’s company.

In recent years, in addition to Christmas Eve, the ’Ndocciata has been held on December 8th; and on that day in 1996 it was offered to Pope John Paul II in Saint Peter's Square in Rome in honor of his 50th anniversary of priesthood. Nearly a thousand Agnonesi marched down the Via della Conciliazione with their 'ndocce singing and dancing. The celebration culminated with a blazing “bonfire of brotherhood." Admirers of the massive fiaccolata (torchlight procession) have described the spectacle as a “river of fire.”

For more on Agnone and the ’Ndocciata see http://www.madeinsouthitalytoday.com/agnone.php

December 22, 2014

Abruzzese Christmas in New York

Cabbage and fried dried peppers (Photo courtesy of #abruzzolink)
Reprinted from #abruzzolink
By Maria Fosco
I was fortunate as a child to experience many old world traditions from Abruzzo. My family arrived later to the United States than most Italian Americans. My father came here in 1956 and my mother followed him in 1958. My sisters and I were born in New York. However, our home was a step back into time, a time of simplicity and of old world Abruzzo. For one thing, my father built a fireplace in the kitchen which was really unheard of in modern homes in the US, let alone the City of New York. We had a large farmhouse kitchen reminiscent of “le masserie” in Italy. Continue reading