Very superstitious is a perfectly fine way to describe southern Italians. Yes, we also tend to be the most religious among the Catholics in Italy. Just ask the Madonna (the Virgin Mary and not the singer) that sits in our gardens or the photo of the Pope in our dining room. But right next to them, you’ll also find a red horn protecting us from sinister neighbors and relatives and bad luck. Maybe you have one of those horns in gold dangling from your neck right now. Don’t put it under your shirt. Wear it proudly. Us insiders know it’s there anyway.
You might need it more than usual this month. Nonna Francesca always said that any year, when Easter landed in March, was to be feared. For some reason she believed that this was an omen from God that the entire year would go badly. Knowing Easter would be taking place March 27 in 2016 has been giving me the heebeejeebees since Jan. 1. So, be warned, there is a hex on our homes.
Of course, the evil doers in your life – who could be your aunt with the chip on her shoulder, an ex-boyfriend, or some guy on your basketball team, who is jealous of your game – are constantly giving you the malocchio (or evil eye) whether Easter is in March or not. The more successful or gorgeous you are, the more likely the evil eye is falling upon you. You know this because Zia Filomena sits you at the kitchen table and drops oil into a bowl of water and gasps at the movement of the liquid while saying, “It’s-a bad-a, It’s a very, very bad-a.” She manipulates the liquid and says some things in dialect under her breath and won’t reveal what’s she doing. Then, she declares that the malocchio is off you, gives you kisses on each cheek, hands you a meatball sub she made before your arrival, and send you on your way. Or is this just me?
Still, Zia Filomena warns you to be careful because after you go out the door, anybody can look at you crooked and reignite the curse. You find yourself considering wearing a necklace of garlic and carrying a cross everywhere you go in fear of these unknown evil spirits plaguing you. This is exactly why Zia Filomena insists you tie red ribbons to your bra or wear red underwear to ward off that dang malocchio. Suddenly, you’re listening.
As Catholics, we should not be as superstitious as we are in southern Italy (or in other places, when we have southern Italian roots). But there’s no denying that we are. It’s not just us. Some northerners play this game, too. I will never forget covering the Juventus v. Milan game at Giants Stadium back when I was a newly minted college graduate. The game came down to a penalty kick shootout. Juventus and Italian national team goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon asked me to let him know when his teammates took their shot on goal because he would stand with his back to the scene for fear of jinxing the outcome. Juve won, which only made my belief in these crazy superstitions all the stronger. So, grab that horn, wear that red underwear, and pray to your favorite saint all that same time. After all, you have to protect yourself, no?