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Italian Lesson – October 2021


As in past October issues, the Herald will dedicate this issue’s lesson to Halloween. Halloween has become a big celebration in Italy. Although it is regarded by some as another invasion of American culture into Italy, its origins go back to Europe and the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III designated Nov. 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs. The holiday All Saints’ Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween. Now getting back to modern times and the secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities such as trick-or-treating, this lesson is for those of you who celebrate Halloween and want to throw some Italian into the mix.

Here are some common seasonal expressions in Italian. Buon Divertimento! (Enjoy!)

Festeggiamo! Intagliamo la zucca!
Indossiamo un costume. Il gatto nero
Lo scheletro
Il fantasma
Il pipistrello
Il ragno
La ragnatela
La maschera
Lupo mannaro
La crostata di zucca**
Il Vampiro
La caramella
La mela caramellata**
Il sidro di mela
La strega*
Ossa di morte**
Let’s party! Let’s carve the pumpkin!
We dress up in costume. Black cat
Pumpkin pie
Candied apple
Apple cider
Bones of the dead

*Zucca derives from the Italian word “zucchina” (squash or courgette) used to best define our American pumpkin associated with the fall season. In its purest form “zucca” as in the phrase “testa di zucca,” refers to person who lacks intelligence and/or common sense. However, for the purpose of describing the pumpkin, removing the “hin” from” zucchina,” gives the meaning of a large squash, which is what a pumpkin really is.

**These fall dessert delicacies haven’t caught on yet in the “old country,” but given the path to acceptance hot dogs, fries, and hamburgers have taken, it won’t be long before these items, too, will be available at the neighborhood “supermercato.”

***Unfortunately, the use of the witch symbolism at Halloween has also been included in Italian celebrations. Unfortunate in that the famous witch, La Befana, the good Epiphany Witch is slowly taking a back seat to the Santa Claus as the gift giver of the Christmas holiday season. Equating witches to the spooky mystique of Halloween might be another step away from the beautiful Italian celebration of Epiphany.

****These are Italian seasonal cookies. Kids as well as adults who prefer the religious “Day of the Dead” over Halloween find their sweet treat in this traditional Italian favorite.

This month’s proverb
Milanese: Quaant se gh’a fam, la puleenta la paar salama.
Italiano: Quando si ha fame la polenta sembra salame.
English literal: When one is famished, even cornmeal mush seems like salami. Figuratively: When one is famished, even mediocre food seems gourmet.

This month’s falso amico
It is capitol. It does not mean capitol as the English capitol, a building in which a legislative body meets, and/or the dome of that government building. In Italian, Capitolo translates as chapter, as in the chapter of a book.

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