Our Italy — All Saints Day and All Souls Day in Italy

A bowl of minestrone soup with chick peas on a table cloth with pictures of fruit.
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! For 2020, I have changed the name of my series, “Your Italian Travel Tips,” to “Our Italy.” In this series, I share bloggers’ experiences of Italy, a country whose culture has captivated the world for thousands of years. I think now is the time to share these memories, knowing that one day we will all be able to return, inspired anew by the Italian people and their land.

Today I am happy to share a guest blog  about how the Halloween season is celebrated in Italy, written by Cinzia, a native Italian who was born and raised in Liguria. Although Cinzia loves to travel the world, her heart is in Italy, and she now teaches Italian for foreign students. I love Cinzia’s blog,  Instant Italy   for the lighthearted insights I find there about  Italian life and culture. Here is what Cinzia has to say about herself

My name is Cinzia and Italy is the place I call home.

Books feed my soul, music fills my days and travelling makes my life richer. I am a day dreamer, tireless walker and believer in the power of little things.

I’ve created Instantly Italy to take you to Italy with me and explore together this crazy but “oh so lovely” country.

I’m sure you will enjoy reading Cinzia’s blog about All Saints Day and the day to follow, All Souls Day, celebrated on November 1st and 2nd in Italy. Since my father passed away almost 5 years ago, I have come to realize the importance of a day like All Souls Day.  I want my children to remember the times they shared with their grandfather and other relatives who are no longer with us. Setting aside a special day to get together and reminisce about the past is one way to make sure we remember the times we cherished together as a family. After all, our connections to the past help to shape our future as well.

Today, I’m told, Italians celebrate the Halloween that we in America have popularized around the world with costumes, candy for the children,  and parties for the adults. Of course, this is all great fun and my children always celebrate Halloween on October 31st.  But I am glad to see that the Italian traditions for the days after Halloween are still followed in Italy, and the food traditions have remained intact.

I was especially happy to read in Cinzia’s blog that in Liguria they celebrate All Souls Day with a special chick pea soup, ceci con le costine, and plan to make this soup to for my Sunday “remembrance” dinner in November this year. Given the circumstances (i.e. given that it is still 2020), this soup will be a warming treat I can present in decorative jars and drop on a few doorsteps.  Along with some ossi di morti from a previous blog!

Enjoy the excerpt below from Cinzia’s blog, All Saints’ Day in Italy and click on the link to continue reading the full blog.  Check out my Instagram Conversationalitalian.french to watch the video when I cook my version of ceci con le costine and try it yourself if you like!

How do we celebrate All Saints’ Day, here in Italy? 

First of all, let me just tell you one thing: we do not celebrate Halloween. Ok, I should be more precise: we used not to celebrate Halloween in the past, we have been doing it only lately.

When I was a kid, I had absolutely no clue of what Halloween was, for me it was just a weird celebration you saw in certain American movies or TV series. To be honest, I would never have believed we would end up celebrating it over here too. Probably people just wanted one more reason to have fun and decided it was time to make Halloween a proper feast in Italy as well.

Nowadays, shops are being decorated with carved pumpkins and scary stuff, kids go around asking for sweets and candies – even if, instead of saying “trick or treat”, they scream “dolcetto o scherzetto?” – and adults throw costume parties as they have seen in many TV shows, but Halloween is still not as huge as in the United States, for example.

After all, Halloween does not belong to our tradition, it is just something we borrowed from other countries.

Here in Italy, we celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, on November 1st and November 2nd respectively. All Saints’ Day, Ognissanti in Italian, is the feast of all the Saints of the Catholic calendar and it is a public holiday, exactly like Christmas or Easter. We do not work nor go to school on that day.  All Souls’ Day is called Giorno dei Morti in Italian and it is the day when we remember those who have departed.  Click HERE to read more…


If you’d like,  leave a comment how you celebrate Halloween, and the traditions that are celebrated where you live.
I’d love to hear from you!

Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases
Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases (with Restaurant Vocabulary and Idiomatic Expressions) is YOUR traveling companion in Italy! All the Italian phrases you need to know to enjoy your trip to Italy are right here and fit right into your pocket or purse.

Valentine Phrases in Italian for Your Special Someone

Bouquet of white roses along the bottom and heart shaped pattern of red roses along the top of the bouquet.
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD for http://www.learntravelitalian.com  It’s easy… if you know the right Italian phrases!

It’s easy to say, “I love you!” in a romantic way in Italian.  When you are with your special someone this Valentines Day, just remember two little Italian words: “Ti amo!” But, of course, there is so much more to love and romance than just saying a few special words!

That’s why I’ve included a special section in my pocket travel book, Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases,” entitled “Making Friends.”

For Valentine’s Day this year, I’ve reprinted some of the phrases from my “Making Friends” section this blog. In the Conversational Italian for Travelers book, I’ve included some typical Italian phrases to use if you’ve decided to stay awhile in Italy and want to approach someone to get to know them better. Or maybe you know an Italian or Italian-American here in the states, and both of you realize how romantic the Italian language can be! In this slim Italian phrase book are some tongue-in-cheek, humorous phrases, some phrases one might say in return if they are interested… and other phrases one might say in return if they are not! We will stick to the positive phrases for this blog for Valentines Day.

Also, I am including in this blog a few new phrases I have just learned from the You Tube Italian personality Anna on the channel Your Italian Circle.  Her video, “How to talk about LOVE in Italian – AMORE in ITALIANO” mentions how to use the verb of romantic love, amore, and the other important phrase for one’s love of family and friends, “Ti voglio bene.”  I’ve covered these topics last year in my blog: “Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day — How to say, ‘I love you!’ in Italian.”  Click on the link to my if you like, and then listen to Anna’s clear Italian to practice saying these phrases yourself at the end of this blog.

After reading this blog, please reply and mention your favorite romantic Italian phrase. I’d love to hear from you! Or join our Conversational Italian! group discussion on Facebook.

The basics of the Italian language are introduced in the Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook and reference books Just the Verbs and Just the Grammar  

                       found on amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com.

The rights to purchase the Conversational Italian for Travelers books in PDF format on two electronic devices can also be obtained at Learn Travel Italian.com.


“Making Friends” in Italian*

So, now you are in Italy, and have decided to stay for awhile.  You may meet someone you want to get to know better.  What to say to them to “break the ice”?  Or, maybe you are just trying to enjoy a coffee, and someone introduces themselves.  What to say if you are interested?  Here are some well-known pick-up lines translated into Italian (some just for fun and others more serious), and some replies – if you are interested – or not!

Let’s get to know one another:

Scusa… Excuse me… (familiar)
Credo che ci siamo già visiti prima? Haven’t we seen (already met) each other before?
…da qualche parte? …around here?
Penso di conoscerti già. I think that I’ve met you before.
Hai degli occhi molto belli! You have beautiful eyes.
Tu hai il viso della Madonna. You have a beautiful face.
(lit. the face of Mother Mary)
Che cosa fai… What are you doing…
…per il resto della tua vita? …for the rest of your life?


Or, a little less flowery:

È libero questo posto? Is this seat free?
Ti dispiace se mi siedo qui? Would you mind if I sit here?
Posso sedermi con te? May I sit with you?
Ti piace questo posto? Do you like this place?
Ti stai divertendo? Are you enjoying yourself?
Con chi sei? Who are you with?
Sono da sola(o). I am alone. (female/male)
Sono con un’amica/un amico. I am with a friend. (female friend/male friend)
Sto aspettando qualcuno. I am waiting for someone.
Sei sposata(o)? Are you married? (to female/male)
Sei single?** Are you single?
Sei divorziata(o)? Are you divorced? (to female/male)
Cosa prendi? What are you having?
Posso offrirti qualcosa da bere? May I offer (to) you something to drink?
Vuoi qualcosa da bere? Do you want something to drink?
Vuoi qualcosa da mangiare? Do you want something to eat?
Vuoi fare una passeggiata? Do you want to go for a walk?

**Although the English word single is commonly used in Italian conversation, the Italian words for single are nubile for a woman and celibe for a man, and these words are used on official Italian forms.



Let’s get together…  (This is a good time to memorize those Italian prepositions!)

Perché non ci vediamo?     Let’s get together.
                                                   (lit. Why don’t we get together/see each other?)
Posso avere il tuo…                          May I have your….
            numero di telefono?                           telephone number?
            indirizzo email?***                             email address?
Hai tempo domani?                          Do you have time tomorrow?
Posso rivederti domani?                 May I see you again tomorrow?
Sei libera(o) domani,          Are you free (to female/male) tomorrow,
            domani sera,                                        tomorrow night,
            la settimana prossima?                    next week?
Vuoi andare al ristorante Do you want to go to a restaurant?
            al bar?                                                   a (coffee) bar?
            al caffé?                                                a cafe?
            in pizzeria?                                         a pizzeria?
Posso invitarla/ti a cena?     May I invite you (pol.)/(fam.) to dinner?
Ti piacerebbe/Vuoi…              Would you like to/Do you want to…
           andare in piazza?                                 go to the piazza?
           andare al cinema?                                go to the movies?
           andare al concerto?                             go to the concert?
           andare allo spettacolo  ?                    go to the show (performance)?
           andare a ballare?                                  go dancing?

***To  learn say your email address in Italian, visit our blog Italian Phrases We Use EVERY Day — Let’s talk about email in Italian. 


According to Anna from the You Tube Channel Your Italian Circle, a familiar way an Italian might ask someone out is with the phrase “Ti va.”  The use of this expression probably derives from the familiar slang phrase, “Come va?” “How’s it going?” and the answer, “Va bene,” for “It’s going well.” The extension of these simple Italian phrases of  greeting into other facets of  life is a good example of how language is always changing and evolving into something new!

So, to ask someone you know if you can get them something, just use:

Ti va + noun (thing) = Do you want…

Expanding on one of our examples above:

Ti va qualcosa da bere? Do you want something to drink?
Ti va un appertivo? Do you want a cocktail?
Ti va un caffè? Do you want a coffee?


To ask someone if they want to do something, just use:

Ti va + di + verb (action) = Do you want to…

Expanding on one of our examples above:

Vuoi andare al ristorante? Do you want to go to a restaurant?
Ti va di andare al ristorante? Do you want to go to the restaurant?
Ti va di andare al cinema? Do you want to go to the movies?



And if the answer to any of the questions above is… yes! 

Penso di si. I think so.
Si, sono libera(o)…. Yes, I am free (female/male).
È stato molto gentile a invitarmi. It was very nice (of you polite) to invite me.
È molto gentile. That is very nice (of you polite).
Che bell’idea! What a wonderful idea!
Che bello! How nice!
Mi piacerebbe molto. I would like (it) very much.
Volentieri! I’d love to! (lit. certainly, gladly)

If you want to hear many of these phrases in action, just click on Anna’s video “How to talk about LOVE in Italian – AMORE in ITALIANO” from Your Italian Circle.

Buon divertimento e Buon San Valentino! 



*Some of this material has been reprinted from our Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases pocket travel book. Learn more phrases by purchasing your own handy book of phrases today!

 Available on amazon.com or Learn Travel Italian.com


Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases
Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases (with Restaurant Vocabulary and Idiomatic Expressions) is YOUR traveling companion in Italy! All the Italian phrases you need to know to enjoy your trip to Italy are right here and fit right into your pocket or purse.

 Purchase at amazon.com or Learn Travel Italian.com


Your Italian Travel Tips – Discovering Winter’s Beauty in Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy

Scenic view of northern Italy with the Dolomite Alps in the background and forested hills below with small towns dotting the grass in the valley.
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! For January I would like to share a blog from Popsicle Society written by Ribana, a native of Romania who shares with us her love of travel in Italy through her writing.

About once a month, I have been re-blogging a post about lesser-known sites or places to visit in Italy under the title “Your Italian Travel Tips.”

Ribana recently traveled to a lesser-known, but strikingly scenic region in the northeastern-most tip of Italy, Trentino-Alto-Adige.  Tentino-Alto-Adige is made up of many small towns nestled in valleys that are carpeted in lush greenery, at the base of  tall hills lined with forests of deep green, perfectly proportioned, stately fir trees, which create a picture-perfect Christmas setting year-round. The Italian Dolomite Alps rise even higher in the background, their jagged peaks tipped with snow.  When snowfall blankets both hills and valleys, thousands of tourists visit every winter season to enjoy winter sports.

From reading Ribana’s blog, Discovering Our World: Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy, one can tell that she is truly enchanted by this region.  Ribana’s panoramic photographs of each major city in the region are accompanied by a description the city’s historical importance and cultural highlights. At the end of the blog are mouthwatering images of the regions’ cuisine. Ribana’s blog has inspired me to put this charming region on my bucket list of “must see” places in Italy during the winter months. Read on and see what winter-time fun awaits you in this  along this northernmost border of the boot of Italy.


Ribana writes:

“There is a region, in Italy, located precisely on the border with Austria and Switzerland, among the best known for the beauty of its mountains, but not only. Trentino Alto Adige is also nature, summer and winter sports, hiking and trekking, art and culture, the mountain massifs, with their glaciers that seem to sparkle in the sun, dominate this region.

Trentino is a real paradise for those who practice winter sports! Most of the Trentino landscape is dominated by the Dolomites, which constitute a unique environment recognized by UNESCO as a Natural Heritage Site.
There are 800 kilometers of slopes and also numerous snow parks, ski areas more suitable for families with specialized instructors and snow kindergartens.

Winter is great for winter sports lovers, although in some localities, such as the Marmolada, Stelvio and Tonale, it is possible to ski even in the summer months.

Click on this link to read the full blog: Discovering Our World: Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy


And remember Conversational Italian for Travelers: Just the Important Phrases on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com if you need a compact, lightweight pocket guidebook to take on your next trip! Free Cultural Notes, Italian Recipes, and Audio to help you practice your Italian are also found on Learn Travel Italian.com.

Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases
Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Important Phrases (with Restaurant Vocabulary and Idiomatic Expressions) is YOUR traveling companion in Italy! All the Italian phrases you need to know to enjoy your trip to Italy are right here and fit right into your pocket or purse.

Your Italian Travel Tips – It’s Ferragosto! Let’s Party Like the Romans

Ferragosto on the beach from "Take Me Home Italy" blog
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! For August I would like to share a blog from “Take Me Home Italy,” written by Marilyn Ricci, a friend who has recently moved to Italy and has been sharing her experiences with us through her writing.

About once a month, I have been re-blogging a post about lesser-known sites or places to visit in Italy under the title “Your Italian Travel Tips.”

And, what better way to explore Italy and provide travel tips than to live there?  Marilyn has been able to experience first hand the important August celebration of Ferragosto.  To Italians, Ferragosto is a very important family and religious celebration, with roots that date back to Roman times.  Over the years,  the meaning  of Ferragosto has changed, but its importance has not diminished, and to Italians, it is still a very special holiday family get-together and summer fun, which brings the same excitement as the Christmas season later in the winter months.

Marilyn writes:

Have you heard of Ferragosto? Ferragosto is officially a holiday on 15 August. Yet, for Italians, it is typically more than one day of celebration.

What IS Ferragosto? Where did it come from and why is it such a huge national holiday?

Back when Augustus was the Roman Emperor, in the year 18 B.C.E., he instituted the Feriai Augusti, a day of rest for the Emperor and his people. The day was dedicated to the Roman god of fertility and of the harvest. It was a time to celebrate and be fruitful as only the Romans could do.

Click on this link to read the full blog: It’s Ferragosto! Let’s Party Like the Romans


And remember Conversational Italian for Travelers: Just the Important Phrases on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com if you need a compact, lightweight pocket guidebook to take on your next trip! Free Cultural Notes, Italian Recipes, and Audio to help you practice your Italian are also found on Learn Travel Italian.com.

Your Italian Travel Tips – Weird Italy Laws by Margie for Pesce d’Aprile

Margie Miklas blog Weird Italian Laws
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! About once a month (or so), I have been re-blogging posts that describe the lesser known places in Italy – or the more well-known viewed in a unique way – under the heading, “Your Italian Travel Tips.”

For April 2019, I am featuring Margie Miklas, an author and travel blogger who writes the blog Margie in Italy.

When I first read a recent blog of Margie’s entitled “Weird Italian Laws,” I loved the insider’s perspective and touch of humor that she used to describe these unusual Italian laws.  It came to mind that many of these laws were surreal – almost too fantastic to be true!  And yet, they are all still a part of Italian law!

In short, I am posting a blog about unusual laws in Italy on April Fools Day, but this is no April Fool! By the way, Italians celebrate April Fools Day on April 1st, as we do here.  In Italy, the holiday is called, “Il Pesce d’Aprile,” which is a reference to the many jokes that people play on one another involving… fish. (Has anyone experienced this?  Leave a comment below if you have!) The origin of April Fools Day is unknown, but according to Wikipedia may have started with ancient Roman holidays called l’Hilaria or  l’Holi induista, both connected to the spring equinox.

Margie Miklas is also the author of several popular travel books that describe her experiences while traveling in Sicily and Italy.  I truly enjoyed reading her book, My Love Affair with Sicily prior to visiting Sicily for the first time myself.  If you’d like to learn more about her books, visit her Amazon author page.

In her own words, the author says about her books and her blog about Italy:

You’ll read about the good and bad in Italy but always with a special love for the Italian people. This isn’t your typical guide about what to see in Italy. It’s experiential, informative, and hopefully entertaining.

You’ll feel my  my passion and also my frustration at  times about how things are in the Bel Paese. You’ll see my photos, but they won’t be the same ones you’ve seen a hundred times on other sites or in guidebooks. I share a glimpse into the heartbeat of Italy and a sense of its people.


To read the full blog, click on the title: Weird Italy Laws

And remember Conversational Italian for Travelers: Just the Important Phrases on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com if you need a compact, lightweight pocket guidebook to take on your next trip to Italy! Free Cultural Notes, Italian Recipes, and Audio to help you practice your Italian are also found on Learn Travel Italian.com.

Buona Festa della Donna 2019

I’ve re-blogged the original post from 2017 in honor of Womens Day this year.

Our saying is about a truly Italian holiday, the Festa della Donna, which was celebrated on March 8 this year. It is a simple holiday started by Rita Montagnana and Teresa Mattei after World War II (dopoguerra)during which men give the mimosa flower to all the women in their lives as a show of appreciation and love.

The saying below is a tribute to Sicilian women that was written by my favorite, and world-renowned Sicilian author, Andrea Camilleri. His mystery series has been made into the hugely successful BBC television series Inspector Montalbano, segments of which I watch almost every day to keep up on my “local” Italian.

Buona Festa della Donna!

Il 8 di Marzo

Festa della Donna 2017
Buona Festa della Donna! A tribute to Sicilian women from renown Sicilian author Andrea Camilleri.

Featured image photo by Dénes Emőke – London, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15200409

Ferragosto – Italian Holiday Time

Ferragosto in Italy, on Lido Beach in Venice, Italy


Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

August means Ferragosto in Italy and Ferragosto means a much-anticipated family vacation on the beaches or in the mountains.

My introduction to Ferragosto was in 2013, when I stayed with my cousin who was living in Vicenza, a small town west of Venice.  The town had an eerie feeling, as most of the shops were closed and the hoards of tourists I had become used to encountering  during the summer months in Italy were nowhere to be found.  Some of the locals frequented the two coffee shops, which remained open.  But, most restaurants and non-essential shops in their small piazza were closed.  I could only take my cousin and his family to dinner right before I left, at the end of August, when their favorite restaurant had finally re-opened.

If you’ve never heard of Ferragosto, read on to learn more about this ancient Roman holiday and why it is still celebrated  in Italy today, with anticipation and excitement for Italian families that is second only to that found during the Christmas season.

The following blog was just published on the Learn Italian! blog on August  12, 2018 for Stella Lucente, LLC and www.learntravelitalian.com. Below is an excerpt. Click on the link to read the entire blog!

I’d love to hear if you’ve ever been in Italy during the Ferragosto holiday!

Share your comments below if you like, or in our Conversational Italian Facebook group.

And remember Conversational Italian for Travelers: Just the Important Phrases on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com if you need a compact, lightweight pocket guidebook to take on your next trip to Italy! Free Cultural Notes, Italian Recipes, and Audio to help you practice your Italian are also found on Learn Travel Italian.com.


Ferragosto – just what is this ancient holiday that still becomes the focus of every Italian during August? While Italy is known as a destination for world travelers seeking to enjoy the Italian landscape, art and food, it is less well-known how Italians enjoy their summertime vacation.

In our story, Caterina, an Italian-American girl,  is a guest in Milan at the house of her Italian cousin Pietro and his wife Francesca.  She arrives in Italy just before the start of the important Italian summer holiday called “Ferragosto”.  The holiday is officially one day – August 15 – and is a holiday celebrated by the Catholic church.  But, most Italians take off at least a week and often two or even three weeks, as people in the cities and even smaller towns escape from the to summer heat to the mountains or beach to enjoy time with their families.

If you want to feel like an insider during the Ferragosto holiday this year, first click on the link from Conversational Italian for Travelers  – Chapter 14 – “On the Beach at Last.”  Listen to the free audio of a the conversation between Caterina and a new friend who meet on the beach during her family’s Ferragosto holiday.

Then, read the Cultural Note below, adapted from the  same textbook also found on Amazon.com, “Conversational Italian for Travelers,”  which describes the history of Ferragosto – how the holiday came to be during Roman times and the different celebrations that take place  around Italy today.  —Kathryn Occhipinti 

To read the Cultural Note about Ferragosto, CLICK HERE 



Italian Lamb Roast for Easter Dinner

Roasted Lamb for Easter


Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Buona Pasqua a tutti!  I am a new convert to celebrating Easter the traditional Italian way, with Easter lamb, as you will discover if you read on below.  But  now I enjoy Easter lamb just as much as any Italian, and – more importantly – my family does, too! The method I developed for roasted Easter lamb was originally posted on March 21, 2018 on the Learn Italian! blog for Stella Lucente, LLC  and www.learntravelitalian.com. Below is an excerpt. Click on the link for the entire method!

I’d love to hear if your family makes Lamb for Easter dinner and your favorite method!

Share your comments below if you like, or in our Conversational Italian Facebook group.

The Easter holiday and the Easter lamb for dinner have been linked together in Italy far beyond recorded years.  But, I have to admit that here in America, my Italian-American family’s own tradition for Easter was (for many years) a special Sunday brunch with friends at our favorite restaurant.  My children loved greeting the Easter bunny as he walked through, the Easter egg hunt, and of course, the special (and the children’s second) Easter basket filled with chocolate goodies provided with dessert.

Now that my family is a bit older, and the charm of the Easter bunny has faded (although not the love of chocolate, mind you),  we prefer to meet at home for Easter.  Since the matriarch of the family, my mother, has had to give up cooking, making our Italian Easter dinner – which, as we all know should feature lamb – has fallen to me.

Another confession – I’ve never really liked the particular “gamy” taste of lamb.  But, luckily, I’ve taken up this family challenge with years of Italian cuisine to fall back on.  I’ve tried several ways to make lamb known to  Italians of different regions.  And I think I’ve found a method that my family all agrees makes our lamb moist and delicious. (Hint: you may find some similarities between this recipe and the pot roast recipe I posted from February.) I hope if you try this recipe for Easter, or for another special family dinner, that your family will agree with mine that it is the most delicate and flavorful lamb you’ve tried. Click here to read on for the recipe!

Italian Father’s Day: St. Joseph’s Day is La Festa del Papà

Festa del San Giuseppe St. Joseph's Table
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

March is the month for showing thanks to fathers in Italy. “La Festa del Papà” takes place on March 19, the day dedicated to San Giuseppe, or St. Joseph, father of Jesus Christ in the Christian religion.

Many Catholic churches in Italy and America, as well as Italian-American societies, host special ceremonies and parades to give thanks to St. Joseph. In my community in and around Chicago, this is a much-loved holiday that seems to bridge the generations between young and old. I’ve had the honor of celebrating St. Joseph’s Day many times, sometimes with two or three different Italian clubs each year!

The traditional St. Joseph’s Day celebration is completed with an afternoon feast, which is centered on a “St. Joseph’s Table”*—a large, three-tiered table with a statue of St. Joseph in the center surrounded by platter upon platter of special foods. Because it is the Catholic season of Lent, the traditional dishes for the St. Joseph’s Table do not contain meat. But that does not stop the Italians from creating a wonderful feast of pasta, fish, and special pastries to celebrate St. Joseph and all fathers of Italy.

Below is a bit of history about the day that I have found during my research on the topic. And, of course, because much of the focus of this holiday is on the special foods to be made for the feast, a Sicilian recipe for Sfinge—fried dough balls—is found at the end of the blog post.

*Featured image of a St. Joseph’s Table courtesy of azenofmyown.blogspot.com.


La Festa di San Giuseppe

Il 19 di Marzo

St. Joseph is honored with a special day by many countries of the world that practice Christianity. In Italy, it is said that the people from Sicily hold St. Joseph in special regard because they believe that their prayers to St. Joseph ended a drought that had caused a severe famine during the Middle Ages.

Legend has it that the drought in Sicily one year was so severe that the only vegetable left growing in the fields was the fava bean. The Sicilian people prayed to St. Joseph and promised they would honor him with a great feast every year if he ended the drought. They survived on fava beans until their prayers were answered and the rains came. From that time on, as promised, Sicilians all over the island have dedicated a feast in honor of Saint Joseph. The tradition has continued to today, and the St. Joseph’s Table, as it is now called, has grown into a feast rich in delicious and symbolic foods.

The St. Joseph’s Table should have three tiers, representing the holy trinity of Catholicism. In the center is a statue of St. Joseph. Fava beans are always included—in a bowl by themselves or as part of a dish. An ancient peasant food thought to have been introduced to Sicily by the Romans called “Maccu” (a soup of dried, crushed fava beans, fennel, and olive oil) was included in the past, as “Maccu di San Giuseppe,” but it is rarely seen today in Italy. Today, many Italian Americans have fava beans blessed at church and carry them for good luck for the rest of the year.

Breadcrumbs are also a popular component of the St. Joseph Day feast, and they are said to represent sawdust. This serves as a reminder that St. Joseph is the patron saint of workers and supported his family by working as a carpenter. Breadcrumbs can be found in many Sicilian dishes, and for St. Joseph’s Day, they are popular in stuffed artichokes or in pasta con sarde.

Treats from the bakery abound on the St. Joseph’s Day table, because St. Joseph is also the patron saint of pastry chefs. Every region has its own special “San Giuseppe” breads and desserts. Breads are made into the shape of a staff or a cross. Fried pastries are very popular. “Sfinci” is a small, fried dough ball (fritter) sprinkled with sugar. Larger puff pastry balls called “zeppole” are piped with custard or cannoli cream and are often topped with a maraschino cherry.

The table is also decorated with many types of citrus fruits. And red is the color to wear for good luck at your Festa di San Giuseppe! When you greet people at the festa, say, “May St. Joseph always smile upon you.”

After the celebration, as part of the tradition, the table is broken down, and all food that is left is wrapped and distributed to various charities, so those less fortunate may also partake.

Traditional Sfinge di Ricotta from Sicily


St. Joseph's Day Sfinge
Sfinge, Italian fritters, sprinkled with sugar.

Below is an excerpt from the site Visit Sicily about the wonderful Sicilian treat, Sfinge di Ricotta, which is traditional for La Festa di San Giuseppe. They are simple to make—a puffy, fried dough ball, or fritter, sprinkled with sugar—and delicious!

The recipe of “Sfinci” is one of the oldest, typical Sicilian recipes.  Sicilian people, as all southerner people, go crazy for frying and during Carnival they prepare  thousands of yummy  recipes. These  Sicilian  cookies are small pieces of fried dough enriched with nuggets of raisins or ricotta cheese and then  fried in hot oil.

There are several variants, some of these also add boiled potatoes in the dough. This is the most classic version with a simple mixture of water, sugar, flour and ricotta cheese. Try them, they are delicious, you will not stop eating! 


  • 500 g (whole milk ricotta cheese [about 15–16 oz.])
  • 200/250 g flour (2–2.5 cups)
  • 2 spoons of sugar (teaspoons)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder


Place all ingredients together in a bowl (eggs and ricotta in a well in the center of the dry ingredients) and mix them with a mixer or by hand until you get a dough with a solid and firm consistency. (Start with 2 cups of flour, and add the rest as needed).

Let stand for about 20 minutes.

Then take the dough with the tip of a spoon and push it with your finger in a saucepan filled with boiling oil. (A small, deep pot works well for this step. Use only small bits of dough and try to form a small ball as you roll it off the spoon. Test the oil by putting one piece of dough in and watch it cook. Moderate the oil so it does not get too hot, so the center of the dough will have time to cook.) Let them cook until they have a goldish aspect.

(The pieces of dough will form a puffed ball (fritter) as they cook. When one side is finished cooking, the ball will flip by itself to the other side. When the other side has finished cooking, the ball will flip again. Let the fritter cook a few more seconds after the second flip and then remove it with a slotted spoon.)

(Drain fritters on a paper towel and while still hot roll gently in sugar. Then remove them to a serving bowl and sprinkle with more sugar if desired.)

Sprinkle them with sugar and serve.

*Volumes are approximate and additional directions in parenthesis are added to the original recipe by the author.

Italian Festa della Donna and International Women’s Day

Festa Della Donna
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

While researching “La Festa della Donna,” which takes place on International Women’s Day every March 8, I came across a bit of history about the origins of this special day for women. Although the holiday in Italy today is a lovely early springtime celebration, made complete with bright yellow mimosa flowers and a light, airy yellow cake, the origins are a bit more serious. I thought I would share what I have learned about the origins of the day in this blog.

Read on after the short history of International Women’s Day for a brief description of how Festa della Donna is celebrated in Italy today and how to make a mimosa cake for the special women in your family.


Since the turn of the century in the 1900s, a history had already developed of commemorating “the woman” with “women’s days.” On these days, women held special gatherings and marches, usually in an attempt to bring women’s and children’s rights to the forefront.

An excerpt from an article titled “International Women’s Day History” from the University of Chicago describes how these early “days of the woman” turned into a celebration of women around the world, now called “International Women’s Day”:

In 1975… the United Nations (UN) began celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8. Only two years later, in December 1977 the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a “United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions.

Click on the link that leads to a summary about the history of  International Women’s Day from History.com if you would like a more detailed description.

La Festa della Donna

Il 8 di Marzo

In Italy, mimosa flowers are in bloom in central Italy on March 8 and were chosen as the symbol of this holiday by the Italian Women’s Association. Mothers, wives, sisters, and teachers can expect to receive small bouquets of these flowers from the men in their lives. Also, in most Italian cities, the Italian government grants free entrance for women to museums, and galleries may even host special exhibitions about women in history or dedicated to female artists. In the evenings, many restaurants offer special discounts for women, many who dress in yellow for the occasion and go out to celebrate with their families or significant other.

Finally, no celebration is complete in Italy without a special food to enjoy, and in this case, there is a special “mimosa cake”—a light, airy yellow sponge cake with a topping made to look like the small blooms of the mimosa flower. Most of the cakes I have seen are round, but I found a beautiful sheet cake version on YouTube that I’d like to share. It is from the Fatto in casa da Benedetta blog, and Benedetta has a book of recipes that has been available since last year (click on the link if you are interested in the book).

The cake is a bit complicated, and descriptions are in Italian, but the video gives clear directions. The end result is delicious and looks beautiful! I hope you enjoy!

From the cook:

Questa torta è dedicata a tutte le Donne
che ogni giorno rendono il mondo un posto migliore.

TORTA MIMOSA Ricetta Speciale Dedicata alle Donne – Italian Mimosa Cake Recipe

Special Mimosa Cake by Benedetta
Beautiful mimosa cake by Benedetta for La Festa della Donna in Italy. From her blog: Fatto in Casa da Benedetta, February 25, 2017