Tag Archives: Italy

Mario’s Special Holiday

Children’s Story Written by Grazia Martienssen

Good day children, Flyer the seagull here, let me tell you about…

August in Italy:
In August it is summer in Italy, and extremely hot. Mario and his family live in Taormina, a hilltop town on the east coast of Sicily. Today is the 15th of August, which is a special holiday called Ferragosto, and is named after the Roman emperor Feriae Augusti who ruled even before Jesus was born.

Ferragosto is also the day that Mother Mary went to heaven, and is celebrated on the same day. Like most Italians, Mario’s family is catholic and believes that Mother Mary was taken into heaven, body and soul.

Do you have any special holiday you enjoy with your family?
Do you know the history behind your special holiday?

La Vara

Celebrations:
Mario’s parents run a small business from home and it will be closed for 2 weeks over Ferragosto. Some friends and relatives join them for the big festivities on the 15th, others work in supermarkets, so have to work half day before joining them.

At 10am Mario goes to Mass with his family and there is a special procession through the streets of Taormina. It is the celebration of la Vara which started in the first half of the 1500s.

La Vara is a large pyramid-shaped structure that symbolizes the assumption of Mary into heaven. The base is the tomb of Mary with the apostles around it. On top, there are statues of Jesus, angels, the sun, the moon and a starry globe.

It is carried by the faithful dressed in blue, in honour of the Madonna (Mary). It is moved by pulling ropes which have been blessed and are later cut into small pieces and given out to the people.

They all go to Giovanni’s house, where the women prepare pasta al forno (pasta bake) while the men braai the meat for the second course. Some of his cousins have come from north Italy where they eat different varieties of food. They tell him about their dishes, but they also enjoy the pasta and meat.

Do you go to church with your family?
If so, which church do you go to?
What special celebrations do you enjoy?

Palio Del Assunta

They go have a picnic up the mountain overlooking a beautiful view of the sea. There are lots of people as everyone is at the sea or the mountains.

At their picnic, Mario met some tourists from England. The next day his parents took them to a museum, where there is air conditioning. With this excuse, they learned a bit about the history of Italy.

In full Italian spirit, Mario’s parent’s offered to take the tourists to Siena in north Italy by train the next day.
This special trip involves a famous horse race called the Palio Del Assunta, which takes place at the central piazza (square).

On the way there the older relatives explain that as they were poor in their younger days, their parents used to take advantage of the cheap holidays and train travel organized on a large scale by the government in the 1920s.

Have you ever travelled by train?
If yes, where did you go?
Did you enjoy the ride?

Horse ride:
In Siena they book at a guest house run by one of dad’s friends. Nonno (grandfather) knows some of the horse owners. He speaks to them and arranges for the children to go on a short horse ride in the evening when it’s cooler. The children enjoy the ride and take lots of photos and videos to remember the special occasion.

Have you ever been on a horse?

Gina’s Italy

Children’s story was written by Grazia Martienssen

Good day children, Flyer the seagull here, let me tell you about:

Ginas Italy:

Gina lives in Messina, on the Italian island of Sicily. Today she’s very excited because it’s the 2nd of June, and there’s no school today because it’s Italy’s national day (La Festa della Repubblica). Her teacher recently taught the class all about its meaning through poetry. She learned that Italy used to be a monarchy, which means they had a king and a queen and became a republic in 1946. That was also the year that her bis nonna (great granny) was born! This was also a very important year for women because they voted for the first time that year.

Did you know Italy is shaped like a boot?
Do you know that Sicily is at the bottom of Italy?
Do you know what an island is?

The Festivities:

Gina’s dad’s office is also closed today. Her zia (aunt) works half day and joins them later with her cousin Vito. Zia and mamma prepare food using the colours of the Italian flag.

Do you know which colours are in the Italian flag?
(Green, white and red).

Gina’s learning to make food from these colours and helps with making the Caprese salad, which is made from fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and yes, you guessed it, fresh mozzarella cheese.
Dad gets the Italian flags and musical instruments ready because they going to play at the street parades. He always makes sure they are super clean and polished. Gina and Vito dress up in the national Italian costumes that bis nonna and nonna made for them. The adults teach them short poems, telling the story of Italy. It’s really fun reciting poems with the family. Gina and Vito also fly little flags as they recite the poems

Do you know any special poems?
Later at the carnival, the children all have little flags, and join in the festivities singing Italian national songs. They join their older cousins in playing music and dancing. Gina’s uncle flies one of the nine planes that let out smoke in the Italian colours. They enjoy the street parades and take part in all the concerts. Everyone claps at their performance. Then they all go to a piazza (public square) from where they watch the president of the republic place a ceremonial wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier in Rome, at the Altare della patria (The altar of the fatherland). After that a military parade goes out. It really is spectacular. The colosseum is decorated with the Italian flag and lights up in the colours of the flag at night. The grandest festivities are held in Rome.

Have you ever been to Rome?
Gina’s best friend Rosa recently moved to Rome, and Gina wishes next year they can go there to take part in the festivities, because they are very grand in comparison to Messina. Later they all go to the beach for a picnic. The children run around saying the different poems such as;

White alps, green hills, red for bravery
1946 was the year Italy had victory
Woman voted no one stopped them
Italy was free.

They had been taught this and other poems to learn about Italy’s history.
Did you know that Rome is the capital of Italy?
Do you know anyone who lives in Italy?

The meaning of the colours:

Granny and great granny teach the children poems about the colours of the flag having religious meaning. Green stands for hope, white for faith and red for charity, but their older cousins tell them that is outdated. Green stands for the hills and plains, white for the snowy Alps and other mountain regions, and red for the wars of independence.

Do you know the colours of your country’s flag?
Do you know what they represent?

Giovanni’s Easter (Pasqua)

Written by Grazia Martienssen

Gooday children, Flyer the seagull here, let me tell you about: Giovanni’s Easter (Pasqua)

The traditions:

Giovanni is a seven-year-old boy who lives in a small mountain village in Italy. It is almost Easter, and nonna (granny) is teaching him all about the local traditions and festivities of Lent and Easter.

What Easter traditions do you have?

Festivities and Fasting:

Giovedi Grasso (fat Thursday) is also the day that the carnival starts. Every year it’s on a different date, but falls on the last Thursday before Ash Wednesday, and continues for six days. During this week, Italy has some of the most entertaining festivals around the world.

Street parties begin, and it resembles a modern-day circus, with fun parades as far as the eyes can see. The carnival ends on Martedi Grasso (Shrove Tuesday), which starts with a feast, where they have more yummy food with all the villagers. Carnevale or in Latin, “Carnem Levare,” traditionally means, “remove the meat.” After the festivities of the carnival, in the olden days, many people gave up meat for the 40 days leading up to Easter. Nowadays, people give up many different things.

Giovanni is very excited and proud as he dressed up and got ready to walk along the parade with his family. He is going to help carry the statues for the carnival.

They walk through the streets with the whole village, his uncles and some of his father’s friends also help carry the statues. Some watch from their balconies, it’s so much fun!

Every day they do something different, some days they sing, other days they play music. His older sister Maria plays the tambourines and is teaching him to play them as well.

Do you play any musical instruments on special occasions?

Ash Wednesday has arrived, and they all go to Mass and receive ashes on their foreheads as it marks the beginning of Lent. She explains to him that the money they save from giving up something for Lent can be used to give to the poor. Giovanni tries his best to give up luxuries.

Do you and your family give up something for lent?

On Good Friday Giovanni and his family go to mass. They have a small ornament of Jesus on the cross. Nonna explains to him all about what happened to Jesus when he went back to heaven. Some of Giovanni’s neighbours dress up as Jesus and his disciples. Before Mass, nonna, his sister Maria, and his mamma prepare a traditional fish dish.

Do you eat fish on Good Friday? Do you go to church on Good Friday?

Maria always reminds her parents, “Natale con I tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi” (Christmas with your family, Easter with anyone you like) before being whisked away by her friends for the long weekend. Giovanni is still young and has to stay with his parents and helps where he can.

Nonna and mamma bake bread in a basket shape, they also boil some eggs and place them in the breadbasket. Giovanni loves helping to shape the dough into a basket and decorating it. He also enjoys carefully placing the eggs in each basket.

On Easter Sunday he gets chocolate Easter eggs as well, and some of the eggs have a little gift inside. Later they go to mass again, and after Mass, he carries a small statue of Jesus or Mary through the village. After that, they go on a picnic lunch. Giovanni really looks forward to eating la Colomba for dessert (sweet bread cake shaped like a dove).

What do you do on Easter day? What’s your favourite part of the day?

Easter Monday (La Pasquetta)

On Easter Monday Giovanni plays games, has raced and has lots of fun. His favourite game is the spoon and egg race. Everyone has a lovely time with lots of laughter. After the games, they celebrate with another picnic lunch at the farm with all the close and extended family.

What do you do on Easter Monday? Do you have any special food?

Mother’s Day by Grazia Martienssen

As we approach Mother’s Day, I thought I would share a bit about my own mom, along with some poems I wrote for the cards I made to sell. With lockdown and loss of income I thought part of my sharing would be the poems, for anyone who would like to copy them to make their own cards.
grace may 11Mom 24/4/1935 – 29/4/ 1988 (†)
Mom was the youngest of 3 sisters in Lake Como Italy, Dervio to be exact. Growing up, she was very much a free spirited, tomboyish type of girl. She went up to grade 5 (Quinta elementare), Which was normal in those days. Her passion was knitting, and she would make and sell things on the knitting machine my grandfather had bought for her. She was also excellent at knitting by hand and would recycle old wool to make new things.

When she was young, she also worked as a maid for neighbours as the umbrella factory in Dervio where her sisters worked, was not hiring people when she left school. She met dad in 1957 and they married in 1959. She became a housewife and I remember holding wool and helping her pull old jerseys apart as she sorted out the wool to make new ones. When dad opened his salon in Bellville there was a little shop nearby that would buy some of her knitting.

Mom loved animals and the birds would nest in the trees in our garden and allow her to see the babies. She was extremely sensitive, e.g. one day I had to vacuum the lounge but as she was speaking to the milkman I stood waiting for them to finish, only to get a mouthful when he left, because she said he was a poor man and asked if I was I trying to show off with what we have because we had more than him. She was also strict; my youngest brother often tells the story of when he faked to be sick one day to skip school. When my other brothers and I left for school, he wanted to get up, but mom made him stay in bed all day! If I spoke badly about anyone she’d tell me who was I to judge because I wasn’t and had never been in that person’s shoes.

grace may 2When dad opened his last salon in Parow, things didn’t go well as he was sickly. As a result, mom started going with him to help. She worked on the till and would wash people’s hair and help out where she could with the odd things. On the 29th of April 1988 as my parents were leaving the salon in the evening, a car came speeding along and hit her and she died instantly .Mom had an extremely high level of intuition. On her last day she was very happy and singing beautifully .My question is, did she feel or anticipate something?
My poems

1st Poem
You are a wonderful mother your smile is so bright,
You love unconditionally morning, noon and night
You listen and care you wipe away tears.
Thank you for being our sweet mother dear.

2nd Poem
To a mother so sweet so loving and caring
Who shares her love and her time.
Who gives of herself without tiring
I am so glad that mother is mine.

3rd Poem
A Mother is a shoulder to cry on.
A friend to talk to
Someone who always listens
She’s patient kind and loving
All this and so much more.
Thank you, mom, for always doing your best.

4th Poem
Mum you are a pillar of strength a tower of love
A source of inspiration
Everything a mother does is done with dedication.
A mother helps us through our trials and all our tribulations
We’re so lucky to be blessed with the best mum in the nation.
Happy Mother’s Day & thank you for everything.