Anne's Blog

With a Bonfire and Chestnuts, Assisi Awaits La Madonna

Date: December 8, 2019 - categories: , , , , , , , , , - 2 Comments

That huge crackling and spitting focaraccio (literally, “big ugly fire” i.e., “bonfire”) near Assisi’s massive medieval fortress, La Rocca Maggiore, is said to light the way for the arrival of La Madonna (for December 8th, feast of the Immaculate Conception).

I’m not sure about that but the traditional December 7th bonfire certainly does gather together the assisani: with gloved hands holding cups of hot mulled wine and paper cones of roasted chestnuts, they chat near the bonfire backdropped by the 14th-century fortress squatting on the hilltop above Assisi.

From a wooden pre-fab near the bonfire and close to the fortress, smiling volunteers serve cups of hot mulled wine and paper cones of steaming roasted chestnuts just off the two grills behind the hut.

A large glass jar sits on the counter for anyone wishing to make a donation to sustain the initiative…

Below La Rocca, Assisi churches and bellowers rise in splendor and lights twinkle in the Umbrian Valley fanning out at the foot of this medieval hilltown gem:

Some chestnut-nibblers enjoyed that view with their nuts.

Federico, one of the roasting volunteers back at the grill, kept his eyes on the chesntuts rather than on the view.

He’s been a volunteer on December 7th “per non so quanti anni” (for I don’t-know-how-many years”). As he gently – almost reverently – rolled the roasting chestnuts in yellow-gloved hands, we talked about the reduced chestnut harvest this year: as for olives, the harvest was down about 30% in 2019. Federico knew the reason: climate change and a consequent increase in aggressive parasites.

Near him, other volunteers worked rapidly on another grill….

……also to satiate eager children waiting in line for the brown paper cones of hot chestnuts:

December 7th at Assisi’s Rocca Maggiore, age barriers disappear with the sharing of those chestnuts, as if going up in the smoke of the bonfire.

All ages share in the goodness. Logicamente. This is Italy where foods unite, where foods earmark festivals and any gathering.

As I headed down from La Rocca, I heard laugher and song and looking up, I saw groups of children and teens scrambling on the slopes, interacting with the 14th-century monument.

The roasted chestnuts and bonfire had drawn them there.

I thought, too, about sharing roasted chestnuts at La Rocca years ago with three small children who’d be excited to get to bed that night. That towering bonfire was illuminating la Madonna’s route to Assisi where she’d visit every home, leaving a simple article of clothing for each child.

As I continued down the hill, I wondered if today’s Assisi children wake up on December 8th to new socks or underwear or gloves.

I hope La Madonna has not gone electronic.

Read here about the Assisi traditions years ago for the arrival of La Madonna


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