Saints, Souls, and Haints: Honey Cakes

TarentellaSome interesting comments from 1845 about All Souls’ Day, by Charles Knight in Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (!), Volume 14, p. 441:

To do a Tarentella as it ought to be done requires room, and although the palaces of the nobility and gentry be large (in ninety cases out of a hundred far too large for their shrunken fortunes), the lodgings of the poor and humble, especially in Naples [Italy] and in the neighbouring towns, are mostly very narrow. Now and then in walking through the poorer and more peopled part of Naples on a winter’s night, the sounds of the Tarentella might be heard. But this was rare. With the first festa or Saint’s day occurring in the spring time of the year the Tarentellari began to be seen and heard in the streets and roadsides, and they generally disappeared with the day of Ogni Santi or All Saints, early in the month of November ; though at times we have seen them performing on the day of the Dead or All Souls, and dancing, in what seemed to us an unfeeling and heathenish fashion, from the public cemetery outside of the town where their relations and friends were interred, to their own dark abodes within the city. Our old Roman, clerical, and archaeological friend, though bound as a priest to condemn some evident relics of Paganism, could find, on these occasions, fine scope for indulging in his classical Halloween dancing skeletonscomparisons, prototypes, and derivations. “The ancients,” he would say, ” tried to turn the valley of the shadow of Death into a pleasant place. Go to Pompeii, and you will find that the pleasantest and gayest street in it is the street of the Tombs, and that the tombs therein are carved with fruits and flowers, and all cheerful emblems. These Lazzaroni are only doing the same manner of thing in their way. They are dancing over the dead, and singing over the dead, and eating and drinking over the dead ; and what are these sweet cakes, made, for the Day of the Dead, of meal and honey, but the type of the honey which the ancients put upon the tongue and lips of the dying ?”

For human beings, no matter how sophisticated or modern they think they are, some things never change, do they,?

Note: for the next several days, I’m working on a couple of intensive writing projects, so “Gherkins & Tomatoes” will of necessity be brief, with a look at “Saints, Souls, and Haints” in honor of the ancient traditions of Halloween, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day. “Haints” comes from a slang term used for “ghost” in the American South.

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