In many an Italian home you would be able to find an altar (for want of a better term) dedicated to loved ones who have passed away. On this altar will stand a candle that is constantly burning along with photos and the odd memento and everything will be lovingly and meticulously placed there. In my family this display is kept in the “good room” at my Nonna’s house. If you touched this altar, there was a good chance that your photo would appear there soon afterwards.
Every year on the night of November the second (all souls day) Nonna would encourage my brother and I to bring over a pair of shoes. The shoes would be placed near the altar and left there overnight. In the morning we would find them bulging with treats such as biscuits, lollies (all wrapped of course) and if we were really lucky, even money. As we rifled through our loot Nonna would explain that as it had been all souls day, the people in the photos had visited and because they loved us had left us all these goodies.
This went on for years and we never questioned it. We would get treats for no reason and it made Nonna happy so everybody wins! I think she stopped doing it in the end as our shoes were getting too big but occasionally she will still ask me why I didn’t bring my shoes over that particular year.
On January the 6th (the feast of St John the Baptist) Nonna will make a pot of pasta and chickpeas which we will all eat. She believes that in doing this we are giving sustenance to our departed relatives who inturn will watch over us. Therefore it is a form of devotion. We, on the other hand eat it because we don’t want to hurt her feelings and again, it makes her happy.
I know this is done in many families in many countries around the world and technically falls under the category of tradition rather than superstition but when I think about it now it seems a little weird. I’m not superstitious, I think if you break a mirror its time to buy a new one and a chain letter is just an excellent way for the postal service to improve its revenue but I often wonder, what makes people believe?
Come to think of it, it is a good thing I am not superstitious. When we arrived in Canada on Sunday the 25th of August the airport was relaxed and so it was a synch clearing immigration and as we had nothing to declare we didn’t even have to go through Customs. On the way out however there was an underlying tension and to top it off there were armed guards scattered around who were checking people at random. The plane was only half full and as I was able to stretch out I thought nothing more of it until about 5 hours into the flight when I realized it was September the 11th. When you fly back to Australia from Canada you lose a day which meant that we arrived home on Friday the 13th. SPOILER ALERT!! We survived.
On the other hand, when I was 14 we went on a family holiday to Italy. Being the home of Catholicism every town has a church and in almost every church there was a relic of a certain saint. The relic was usually a body part i.e. finger, eyeball or vocal chord but in some cases the entire body was intact. This grossed me out until we went to the Basilica of saint Francis of Assisi. For some reason Saint Francis was kept intact and his body is interred in a crypt below the Basilica. From the moment you enter it the energy is undeniable, so much so that fully grown and seemingly macho men would be moved to tears and still others would drop to their knees and weep. As a 14-year-old this was slightly unnerving yet I found it amazing and it has always stuck with me.
What makes a person believe is an age old question and many people much wiser than me have pondered it for centuries so possibly there is no definitive answer.
I guess they just do…