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Dialect Proverbs
“After Christmas the cold sets in”
The meteorological proverbs that have deeper roots than religious ones
De Natale a nnanti
tremanu l’enfanti
Te Natale a mpoi
tremanu le corne de li oi

[Before Christmas the kids shiver
After Christmas the oxen’s horns shake]
(Salento)
by Alberto Sobrero
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Bruno Maggio. China

      The meaning is clear: before Christmas day only children suffer from the cold; after Christmas it’s so freezing that it even makes the oxen’s horns tremble. This proverb therefore does not consider Christmas as a Christian festivity, as the mystery behind Jesus’s birth etc., but as a specific day on the calendar that marks a particularly strong climate change: it’s not a delimiter of the liturgical path but a delimiter of the climate pattern.

Leafing through the Christmas proverb list, actually, we notice that very few refer to the liturgical meaning, the evangelic message of the holiday. On the contrary, the majority of the proverbs examine two thematic fields that are typically lay: the weather, seen as an element that affects farmers’ everyday struggles, and social life.

Some examples:

       a) Meteorological-work related field: 

       Te Santa Lucia llunghisce la dia / quantu l’ ecchiu de l’ addina mia “on Santa Lucia’s day the day stretches / just like my chicken’s eye” (as in, only a little bit, almost not at all. It’s definitely an old saying, certainly coined before 1582: before that year in fact the winter solstice was between the 12th and the 13th of December, therefore making the 13th the shortest day of the year. The calendar reform changed all this, and by adding around 10 days to the year the solstice then started to occur on the 21st, which meant the old saying became “incorrect”, but it still kept being passed down);

       De Natale / lu giurnu pare “On Christmas the day appears” (in the sense that we notice that daylight already lasts longer);

       Prima de Natale né friddu né fame / doppu Natale e friddu e fame (it’s similar, in content, as the saying we started off with: Christmas is somehow the doorway into winter, and it introduces a season of physical suffering);

      Se uei begna na bbona annata / Natale ssuttu e Pasca mmuddata “if you want the next year to be a good one / a dry Christmas and a wet Easter” (if cold, dry weather prevails during winter and rainy weather during Easter, plant roots will develop nicely and will produce lots of fruit when the time comes. The focus of the saying isn’t Christmas but the growth of crops).

      b) In the social field:

      Se uei bbiti la massara pumposa / Natale ssuttu e Pasca muttulosa “if you want your wife to look her best / a dry Christmas and a dewy Easter” (if that year Christmas is cold and dry and Easter is humid and rainy the harvest will go so well that the farmer can afford to buy nice clothes for his wife);

     De Pasca e de Natale / se mmutanu le furnare / De Pasca Befainia / se mmuta la signuria “the townswomen put on their party dresses at Easter and on Christmas day, while ladies do it from Easter until Twelfth Night (6th of January)” (basically: every day of the year);

     Ci nu face lu desciuno de Natale / o ca è turchiu o ca è cane “whoever doesn’t undertake the Christmas fast / is either barbaric or an animal” (this refers to the fast on Christmas Eve, which is considered obligatory, and the penalty is to be declassified to the ranks of an enemy of society or a beast);

     De Natale / puru lu focu s’ha a binchiare “during Christmas / even the fire gets stuffed” (this is a nod to the Christmas Eve dinner which always consists of lots of food and the guests always end up very full at the end of the meal: therefore men, women, pets, animals and even the fire have to gorge, this is because it is “fed” lots of wood to keep it going).

     Holy Christmas is merely the background, a fixed date on the calendar, that gains meaning in function of the farmer’s primary needs (hunger, cold, the harvest or the fields), the stratification of society (fancy dresses seen as a class indicator) and established practices (the fast and the subsequent Christmas Eve dinner).

     Aristotle thought that a proverb was “a concept that derived from ancient philosophy, that survived throughout the years despite many setbacks”. Now we can ascertain the fact that not even Christianity has managed to interfere with the rather secular essence passed down by that “ancient philosophy”.

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