December 31, 2014

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

La Befana & Epiphany Dinner Party with New York City's Sicilian Food, Wine & Travel Group

For more info visit New York City's Sicilian Food, Wine & Travel Group on Facebook

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

December 27, 2014

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 24, 2014

A River of Fire in the Land of Bells: The ’Ndocciata, Agnone’s Ancient Fire Ritual

The ’Ndocciata (Photo courtesy of 
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 sanctified 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, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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.”

~ Giovanni di Napoli, December 23, Venerable Therese of Saint Augustine

For more on Agnone and the ’Ndocciata see

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

December 20, 2014

Two Marble Reliefs With Birds From Salerno at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Two Marble Reliefs with Birds, carved about 900-1100
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
With all my Christmas shopping done early, I took advantage of my day off from work by treating myself with a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition to seeing many of my old favorites and the Annual Angel Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche installation (see upcoming post), I discovered two marble reliefs with birds from the vicinity of Salerno.
According to the museum’s wall label
These reliefs are cut down from a larger composition and show an imaginary bird, a cock with a griffin-like head, and a peacock set within foliage and amphora. Both originate from Salerno, where they were said to have been built into masonry of a church. They were reused at a later date, and cut into their present forms. While their original function is unknown, they may have been part of a chancel screen, a low wall in front of the sanctuary of a church. The exotic and orientalizing birds reflect the rich interchange of design motifs between the Islamic, Sassanian, Byzantine, and south Italian cultures in the century 1000.

December 19, 2014

Around the Web: Christmas Italiano

Nativity with St. Lawrence and St. Andrew by Antoniazzo Romano
Photo courtesy of Made in South Italy Today
Reprinted from Made in South Italy Today
According to popular tradition, the birth took place in a stable, surrounded by farm animals. A manger (that is, a feeding trough) is mentioned in Luke 2:7, where it states "Mary wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them."
Shepherds from the fields surrounding Bethlehem were told of the birth by an angel, and were the first to see the child.
Popular tradition also holds that three kings or wise men (named Melchior, Casper, and Balthazar) visited the infant Jesus in the manger, though this does not strictly follow the biblical account. Continue reading

December 16, 2014

Michela Musolino and Friends to Perform at First Night Morris County

Photo courtesy of Michela Musolino
December 31st
(9:45 and 10:45)

A songstress known for the fiery and passionate Folk and Roots Music of Sicily, Musolino makes traditional pieces seem contemporary and turns world fusion music into timeless pieces. Singing on both sides of the Atlantic in venues such as Chicago’s Old Town School and the temples at Selinunte, Sicily, she enchants with a voice that seems to float between ages. Tonight, she is joined by guitarist and accordionist Phil Passantino and multi-instrumentalist and world percussionist, Michael Delia, who research and perform both Southern Italian folk music and world traditional folk. Join in a rousing celebration of the music of Sicily and Southern Italy.

Michela Musolino:
Phil Passantino:
Michael Delia:


Site 15: Masonic Lodge Upstairs, 39 Maple Ave., 175 seats

For more info visit

December 13, 2014

Award-Winning Tenor Micheal Castaldo and The Scarsdale Strings to Perform “An Italian Christmas Journey”

December 9, 2014 (White Plains, NY) — “An Italian Christmas Journey,” a traditional Christmas concert featuring award-winning Italian tenor Micheal Castaldo will take place on Monday, December 22, 2014 at 7:30p.m. at The White Plains Performing Arts Center 11 City Place, 3rd Floor, White Plains, NY 10601.  
Castaldo will perform classic Christmas carols from his chart topping best-selling album, "Extravergine: Christmas in the Mediterranean," accompanied by the Scarsdale Strings Quartet. Tickets are available for $42 at 914-328-1600 or online at

This concert will capture your heart and imagination with the spirit of the holidays in the beautiful WPPAC. Even those who don't speak Italian will be moved by the setting, the songs, and by Micheal's powerful and melodic voice. Over the past ten years Michéal Castaldo has entertained more than 500,000 people across the USA, Canada, and Europe with creative and rousing renditions of classic Italian songs. Castaldo’s performances are enchanting, heartfelt, and authentic. He treats the audience to stories, spoken in English, in between songs that share moments from his Italian upbringing, tidbits about his musical journey, and insight that went into his song choices. All songs are sung in Italian with a few sung in English as well.

Live performance of songs from Castaldo’s Extravergine CD will include "Oh Santa Notte" (Oh Holy Night), "E Nato Il Bambino Gesu" (What Child Is This?), "Batte Nel Cuore, Suona Natale" (Little Drummer Boy), "Gioia Nel Mondo" (Joy To The World), "Puoi Sentire Quel' Che Sent Io?" (Do You Hear What I Hear?), and "Astro Del Ciel" (Silent Night).  Castaldo translated the well-known Polish carol, "Jezus Malusuenki" now entitled, "Piccolo Jesu," which will also be featured along with "Gloria in Excelsis Deo," "Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle," "VA PENSIERO," and "Adeste Fideles." 
Cibelli Productions & Majestic Castle Music Productions are partnering to help promote the Italian culture and heritage at this Italian Christmas concert.
Tickets are available for $42 at 914-328-1600 or online at 
For more information or to request an interview with the artist, go to
Contact Majestic Castle Music at 877-642-7271 or at

December 12, 2014

John Miniero's Presepe Napoletano

A Christmas Tradition in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn
John Miniero with his masterpiece
By Giovanni di Napoli

Last week (Dec. 4th) during Anita Sanseverino's Presepe Napoletano lecture and photo exhibit at the Italian American Museum I had the pleasure of meeting John Miniero, a local artisan who keeps the Neapolitan tradition of presepi making. Mr. Miniero, a retired baker, was nice enough to bring a few examples of his handiwork for the museum to exhibit.

After the presentation, while I was admiring his work, he shared some of his modeling techniques with me, as well as what kind of tools and materials he uses to build the scenery. Because of the detailed work that goes into his creations, each one takes him a couple of days to make.

Mr. Miniero, I learned, also displays a giant outdoor presepe in front of his house in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. Seeing my interest in the art form, he kindly invited me over to take a look.

So the next day after work I took Mr. Miniero up on his offer and made my way to 14th Avenue, between 79th and 80th Streets. When I arrived, I was blown away by the sheer size of the presepe. Spanning the length of his front yard, the intricate diorama—made with wood, cork, paper and paint—was covered with a multitude of characters, from the Magi to Pulcinella. The impressive collection, portraying vignettes of everyday life from 18th century Naples, was acquired over the years from his native Sorrento, Napoli and various hobby shops around Brooklyn.

To the delight of the community, Mr. Miniero has been constructing his presepe for nearly 20 years. Never put together the same way twice, the display is always growing with new additions. The multi-leveled diorama—complete with scenic backdrops, hidden grottos and mirrors that create the illusion of more space—even has running water; hidden water pumps feed flowing brooks, fountains and waterfalls.

Naturally, his house has become one of the stops on the now popular Dyker Heights Christmas Lights bus tours, and the whole time I was there talking with him, people walking and driving by in cars were stopping to take photos. It was great to see so many people taking an interest in his work. I felt privileged to see it and experience his love of the tradition. 
A bustling tavern
A dinner party with Pulcinella
A town in the distance
A look inside the manger
A bakery
Scenes from an open air market
A shepherd with his flock  
Up the stairway towards the manger
Figures performing domestic choirs
Pilgrims making the journey towards the manger
Photos by New York Scugnizzo