“A Vecchia” end of year event
According to the legend of Gratteri, since the dawn of time, A Vecchia, a woman as long as ugly, would watch from the top of his cave the ancient village madonita, spending every single day of the year to prepare gifts and treats to the children of Gratteri.
She would go to the village only on the last night of the year to distribute her gifts to those children on the basis of their merits, quietly sneaking from the most unthinkable places of those humble dwellings.
The Strina knows everything about those children, so much so that, throughout the year, parents exhort children to behave diligently, so as not to have the bad surprise of finding only ashes and coal:
“Pi Natali nasci u Bammineddu,
u primu di l’annu veni la Strina”. (Antonina Lazzara, classe 1923).
(Per Natale nasce il Bambinello,
il primo dell’anno arriva la Strina)
“Jnnaru mina ventu e fa furtura,
‘u primu jornu ti scontra la Strina,
si nni cala adasciu adasciu a la piduna
e vvà circannu risiettu di marina”. (Giuseppa Lanza, classe 1922).
(Gennaio semina vento e porta gelo,
il primo giorno ti incontra la Strina,
se ne scende a piedi, lentamente
per cercare il clima mite della costa).
In the past, as the elders say, on New Year’s Eve a significant end-of-year rite was performed in the village. In fact, as Mrs Giuseppa Ilardo explains, a masked man – the Old Woman – passed through the streets of the village on the back of a donkey, who hid his face under a white sheet, escorted by the boys of the village who announced, with their screams, his arrival: “A Vecchia! U picciriddu mi cianci!”.
They carried out in the streets of the country an itinerant collection, playing horns of animals, whistling, chanting from door to door:“O mi dati un turtigliuni, o vi scassu lu purtuni!””O mi dati un cucciddatu o vostru maritu vi cadi malatu!”.
Thus, each family offered what they could: dried figs, broad beans and Christmas sweets – the traditional “turtigliuna” – buccellati filled with candied fruit and covered with sugar tails, called Gratteri “diavulicchi”. This offer was reciprocated with an exchange of wishes, for a prosperous and fruitful new year:
“Buon Capudannu, buon capu di misi,
li turtigliuna unni l’aviti misi,
l’aviti misi nte la cascitedda,
niscitili ca passa a Vicchiaredda” (Maria Antonina Cirincione, classe 1913).
According to the anthropologists of the University of Palermo, this ancient custom, like others in Sicily, would be of extraordinary anthropological interest, since it would be linked to the ancient ritual exchange of gifts, to masks and rites of passage during the winter period to refound the cycle of the year and with it the life of the community itself.
As Ignazio Buttitta explains “it is by no means by chance that it is the poor and children who receive gifts on specific ritual occasions nor that in critical periods, masked groups thunderously break into the living space and go questuando for houses and farms […].
Life depends more than ever on the dead, on the ancestors, on winter. From them, which in this period of little light and cold find occasion to wander on the surface of the earth, it is necessary to safeguard themselves; it is therefore necessary to make them propitious not lacking in offering food and heat; it is necessary to keep them at a distance by lighting fires, producing deafening noises (A.Buttitta 2006, pp.110-114).
From the seventies until today, this ancient custom has been taken up and adapted by the pro-loco in a folkloristic key. So, for the night of New Year’s Eve, at 21, the Old is welcomed by the people in the district of San Vito. It, as tradition, is covered with a white sheet, on the back of a donkey, accompanied by a procession of boys disguised as shepherds of the past centuries, who illuminate the way with rudimentary torches of wax, shouting his name to the throat, playing animal horns and cowbells.
As Buttitta himself observes, the noises and sounds of the cowbells, would be “signallers of otherness”. The old woman, after a whole year locked in the cave, goes back to the village greeted with joy by the whole community (A.Buttitta 2006). In this way, you break the tranquility of the night with a masking even sound.
And they are the carusi, the main protagonists of this tradition, dressed with traditional costumes of shepherds and mountaineers: velvet trousers and jacket, hooded cape, “scappularu or tistièra”, cap, handkerchief at the neck, leather leggings “jammalina”. It is on them that we must stop the attention, as at first sight could pass unnoticed another rite, that of initiation that implement the carusi during the coldest night of the year, to prepare to become great.
From the age of seven, in fact, the children, very often entrusted to the elders, along with a group of boys the tortuous path that climbs through the pine forest of San Vito up to the Cave Grattara. A test of courage and solidarity: conquer the fear of the darkness of the night and resist those verses, like the wind howling in the trees, like mysterious presences of nature spirits in a fairy-tale imaginary.
Once we reach the cave, we return to see the stars again.
Thus, the most experienced of the group plays an ox horn screaming in the cave. A sound so vigorous that it spread to the village, in the tranquility of the night. It is the voice of the Old Woman, ready to return among her people. The test is passed.
The boys come back down, but this time with lit torches that guide their steps. The carùsi, repeating these gestures in an unconscious way, do nothing but reaffirm the identity of the group, the sense of belonging to the community, understood as a way of preserving social memory.
As the anthropologist Sergio Bonazinga argues, the masking that the boys would put in place, would also be sonorous; every child, in fact, holds a bell, an acoustic signal, as in a flock. The cowbells, as he claims. Schmirtt, should be associated to animals and not to men, and in turn, to the ancestors of the group.
It is precisely children, therefore, who play an important role, that of mythical mediators between the world of the deceased and that of the living, because they enjoy a special status and are responsible for ritually propitiating the orderly cycle of the seasons (Schmitt 1988, p.146).
In any case, the advent of masks, signaling the necessity of death, impose the return to life. The mask of the Old Woman is insulted, mocked, both for its longevity and for its ugliness, as is reported in the popular songs adapted by the pro-loco on the paradoxes of the Pitrè:
“Facciazza d’un crivazzu arripizzatu…spaddazzi di na mula di trappitu…taliàti genti tutti a Santu Vitu…niscìu la Vecchia ncerca di lu zitu…”.
In this way, we would evoke extraordinary facts that occurred “illo tempore” for the birth of the Old:
“Quannu nascisti tu làdia vicchiazza…ci foru centu negli e trimulizzi…lu suli s’annigliò cu nna nigliazza…Lu risìnu cadìa stizzi stizzi”. During this night, we would have the re-actualization of the myth, as extraordinary events once happened so that for one night the equilibrium is broken with the repetition of the events; with its arrival, the reversal takes place, the otherness of the natural equilibrium:
Vitti affacciari lu suli di notti…e quattru muti jucari a li carti…iò vitti siminari favi cotti…si vitturu ntè marzu ficu fatti…
It takes place an itinerant collection, a ceremonial circuit of exchange, animated by band sounds, folk songs and Christmas songs. Hilarity and joy take over. To entertain the audience, the “scecca” is danced in the squares and from time to time it is made to cut wine and liquor to keep it a bit ‘hot.
Alberto Maria Cirese, revealed the fact that: the “strenne” of New Year are an obvious case of total desecration. They were long condemned as diabolical and pagan, along with other customs of the Calends of January, but these tenaciously resisted the prohibitions although they were largely losing those ancient functions. The ancient pagan sacredness, reconfigures itself as a new Christian sacredness, the New Year, lost its ancient superstitious values, could be reconsecrated (Cirese 1997 p.126-127).
On this occasion, in Gratteri, the Christmas gifts are postponed, the gifts for children are hidden in the most curious and unimaginable corners of the house; it is the Old Woman who has hidden them hastily, slipped through some crack. To do this, however, the little ones were sent to bed early; for them, sleep at a certain time is a must, and woe to wake up, because the Old One, if she were discovered, would put in place her revenge: piercing the eyes of the curious.
The figure of the Old Woman represents a scapegoat, to her are attributed all the faults of the community, is publicly derided “Old Befana ugly, Old Befana, nesci sta sira, nesci di ntè sta tana…” and still
“Avi n’annata sana chi sini n’chiusa, piglia la scecca e scinni n’cerca di fusa…Vecchia Vicchiazza brutta, Vecchia Vicchiazza, scinni sta sira, scinni nta nostra chiazza…. E nun ti mariti nò, schietta arristari tiròllallalla…”.
The Old Woman, however, after having distributed her gifts, must necessarily return to her cave and remain there throughout the year, so that the broken balance can be restored with the beginning of a new and fruitful year.
Ci sunnu i patri pronti cu li vastuna, s’on lassi e picciriddi li tùrtigliuna… “L’occhi ti sgrifamu Vicchiazza brutta, s’on scarghi u sceccu e torni a la tò rutta…”.
Today the procession of the event ends in the main square where some young people entertain the inhabitants and tourists with the “Vanniata di festi di l’annu“, the process of events happened during the year.
With irony and sarcasm the parody is made of the facts and the local and national characters that during the year have made talk about themselves. At the stroke of midnight, then, we welcome the new year with a collective toast, with the distribution of typical sweets and the condemnation to the stake of a straw puppet representing “the old year”, between fireworks and fireworks.
The puppet that the boys dress as a man, brought by the boys during the tour of the country, is punched and eventually hanged and burned as a scapegoat. Buttitta observes: the fire and the stake of puppets, mark with their presence, on the one hand the elimination of time consumed, on the other the opening of a new time; for this reason these traces can be traced back to rites of passage to refound the cycle of the year and with it the life of the community itself” (Buttitta 1984, p.137).
In the puppet who dies at the stake are destroyed the sins accumulated by society, sins that men could not have committed, because every act done on nature and its order, is still a sacrilegious violence.The ultimate purpose of all these winter rites could therefore be to destroy worn-out time, of which the puppet is a symbol (Buttitta 2002, pp. 136-137).
The event, in addition to involving visitors, involves all the population who participate in the songs and dances that are held until the stroke of midnight; a privileged moment of socialization and strengthening the sense of belonging to the community.
Testo tratto dalla Tesi di Laurea di M.Fragale “Il ciclo dell’anno a Gratteri. Aspetti devozionali e significato antropologico”, Università degli Studi di Palermo – A.A. 2006/07.
Vecchia Befana brutta, vecchia Befana,
nesci sta sira, nesci di ntè sta tana……
Vecchia vicchiazza brutta, vecchia vicchiazza, scinni sta sira, scinni nta nostra chiazza……
Avi n’annata sana chi sini n’chiusa, piglia la scecca e scinni
n’cerca di fusa……
Prima chi tu scinni, jttannu vuci,
piglia lu saccu chinu di cosi duci….
Quannu tu arriverai ntè stu paisi,
furria casi casi purù p’un misi……
Ci sunnu i patri pronti cu li vastuna
s’on lassi e picciriddi li tùrtigliuna……
L’occhi ti sgrifamu vicchiazza brutta,
s’on scarghi u sceccu e torni
a la tò rutta…..
``Viva, viva lu Capudannu``
Rit: Viva, viva lu Capudannu
senza lastimi e senza affannu.
Viva, viva lu Capudannu
allegria pi tuttu l’annu.
Grattalusci chi siti in risbigliu
ascutati stu nostru cunsigliu
pi sta sira manciati e biviti
ca dumani aluvoti nun ci siti. Rit…
Picciriddi chi stati durmennu
di nto lettu scinniti currennu
chista è l’ultima notti di l’annu
c’è la Vecchia chi vvà passannu. Rit...
Vi viviti un bicchieri di vinu
vi quàdia e vi nforza lu schinu
cinni dati un bicchieri a zza Nina
ca travaglia sira e matina. Rit…
E passannu di sutta u palazzu
senti sempri nu granni fitazzu
e cc’è genti chi ddà nun ci camina
ca si scanta di la china. Rit…
U sapiti cari paisani
c’ò macellu scannunu i cani
e i viteddi ditti di latti
nun sunnu autru chi carni di jàtti Rit…
A menzannuotti viniti nta chiazza
ci sarà nna ranni fistazza
a la genti chi va sparrannu
ci vanniamu li festi di l’annu. Rit…
``Quannu nascisti tu``
Quannu nascisti tu làdia Vicchiazza…
Ci foru centu negli e trimulizzi…
Lu suli s’annigliò cu nna nigliazza…
Lu risinu cadìa stizzi stizzi…
Rit: E nun ti mariti nò
nun ti mariti nò
e nun ti mariti nò
schietta arristari tiròllallalla…
Facciazza d’un crivazzu arripizzatu…
spaddazzi di na mula di trappitu…
taliàti genti tutti a Santu Vitu…
niscìu la Vecchia ncerca di lu zitu…
Vitti affacciari lu suli di notti…
e quattru muti jucari a li carti…
iò vitti siminari favi cotti…
si vitturu ntè Marzu ficu fatti…
Aricchi surdi e cantuneri muti…
speramu ca nun lu sannu i Lascaroti…
la Vecchia vvà spartennu cosi duci…
si voli fari amici i Grattalusci…