Monday, October 31, 2011

Dolcetto o Scherzetto! (Treat or Trick!)

Halloween is not an Italian holiday but it has been adopted to a limited extent in Venice and, because it involves a lot of elements that Italians like--ie, costumes, sweets, and kids on the loose--I suppose throughout most of the country. But here, trick-or-treaters don't go from house to house or apartment to apartment, but from shop to shop, as the kids will soon do for the upcoming Festa di San Martino on November 10.

Of course not everyone here is happy about Halloween's growing prominence. The Church of San Martino near the Arsenale posted a very stern notice--two actually, side by side--on the bulletin board in front of their door stating that they would have nothing at all to do with the holiday and its costumes and jack-o-lanterns and candy and other impious nonsense. On the evening of October 31 they would be saying a rosary for the souls of all the departed.

And so they were, murmuring their way from bead to bead, when our sugared-up son and his school friend, fully-costumed and toting maniacally-grinning pumpkin bags filled with their hauls of candy, decided that the best place to stop and goof off and break into ear-splitting banshee screams was directly in front of the open church door.

It's almost as if they took the church notices as a challenge. But as neither of them is yet four years old, and neither can read, it must have just been instinctive primal hooliganism.

Of course we told them to keep it down and hurried them along, but I did so with a very rare sense that at least for a couple of minutes all was right in the world. The Church had done its part and announced what it considered appropriate activity on such a significant night and the pre-schoolers had done theirs and spontaneously flouted that same activity con gusto.

For piety needs impiety to feel itself to the fullest, just as impiety needs piety to really have any fun.

Now in this sense the ostensibly pious have it better these days than ever: they need only turn the computer or television or radio to buck themselves up. Their ancestors might have had to leave their house, or at least look out the window.

While the poor would-be impious of the Western world...! Their case is almost hopeless. When everything and everyone is relentlessly telling you to indulge your appetites and cravings it becomes hard to even recognize those appetites as your own, or as yourself. The only truly transgressive act is to become an ascetic.

But last night at San Martino with the barbarians--or pagans--running wild at the door of the church it all balanced out perfectly, as it so rarely does anymore. I hope at least one cranky churchgoer, or maybe the priest, caught sight of the costumed racket at the door and benefitted from its contrast to his or her own focus. And though neither my unlettered son nor his friend could appreciate the dynamic, I could and did. I considered it my very own Halloween treat.


  1. Ha ha, what a great post. So funny for the church to be so grumpy about a holiday that's simply focused on kids having fun. :)

  2. I had a good chuckle, also. I liked the way you drew some interesting conclusions from this little event.

    (Has the sugar rush subsided? And, there's still St Martin's Day to come!)


  3. I'm glad you liked the post Annie & Yvonne; thanks for letting me know.

    Annie, I think being grumpy and praying for the souls of the dead are exactly the kinds of things a church should be doing instead of--well, let's just leave it at instead of a lot of other things.

    And, Yvonne, thankfully the sugar rush has subsided & is being kept in abeyance by the careful doling out of the remaining candy. We should just about be out of it by the time San Martino ushers in another avalanche of sweets!