Our Italy – How to Celebrate “The Day of the Dead” in Sicily, by Ettore Grillo

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

Ciao a tutti! Since 2020, I have been posting the series of blogs, “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, especially since now some of us have started to return, inspired anew by the Italian people and their land.

Today I am happy to share a guest blog entitled: Bones of the Dead, Typical Sicilian Cookies by Ettore Grillo. Learn a bit about how “The Day of the Dead” is celebrated in Sicily on November 2 in his blog and about how bakeries make the special holiday cookies that are shared when remembering loved ones. Grillo even explains this holiday in more detail in his book, which you can find on Amazon.                       

Ettore Grillo's Blog

November 2 is drawing near and in all bakeries in Sicily it is possible to buy the typical cookies for this day, “the bones of the dead.” They look like human bones, are hollow and hard to eat.

Today, after buying some, I asked the baker to tell me the secret to making them so hard and hollow. He said that he leavens dough for two days on a canvas to make it lose its moisture, and then he bakes them at a low temperature, about 140 degrees. During the process, they lose sugar and become hollow.

On November 2, children receive gifts from the dead. Obviously, this is a fiction, for parents actually buy the gifts and pretend that the dead brought them. This way, children are taught to respect and love the souls of those who are no longer with us.

November 2nd is a day of celebration…

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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.

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.

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 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

Buon Anno Nuovo 2018!

Florence Italy's Ponte Vecchio

To all my friends… May all your Italian dreams come true in 2018!

Auguri di un Felice e Prosperoso

Anno Nuovo!

Best Wishes for a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

Il Primo di Gennaio

Florence, Italy Ponte Vecchio
The Ponte Veccchio, or “Old Bridge,” in Florence, Italy

I hope you have enjoyed my blog as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing about the Italian language and Italian traditions. Please visit me at this blog in 2018, and invite your friends to join in for more Italian language tips, Italian sayings, and Italian cultural notes.
And remember, this blog is part of our open Facebook page, Conversational Italian!, which is a great place to share about all things Italian. Practice your Italian on this page, ask questions, and share pictures from your trips to Italy.   I’d love to hear from you!
—Kathryn Occhipinti 
It’s never too late to learn Italian or too early to plan your trip to Italy!
For advanced Italian language materials, Italian cultural notes, and Italian recipes, visit our sister blog at Learn Italian!
Visit our website www.LearnTravelItalian.com, which has FREE Online Interactive Italian Dialogues recorded by native Italian speakers. Follow Caterina on her trip through Italy! Listen to all you need to know about transportation in Italy, making friends, and of course, how to read those Italian menus!
All blogs and Internet materials courtesy of the Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books, available on Amazon.com. and LearnTravelItalian.com.

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Conversational Italian for Travelers textbook

Buon Natale! Merry Christmas in Italian!

Presepio - Italian Nativity Scene

To all my friends who love all things Italian… Warm wishes for a wonderful holiday!

Buon Natale!

Merry Christmas!

Il 24 di Dicembre

Meaning of Christmas in Italian
The true meaning of Christmas in Italian and English

This special Italian saying for the December holidays was originally posted by Rita from our Conversational Italian! Facebook group. Special thanks to E. L. Word for the Italian photo and Italian language.

We would love to hear what you have to say about your experiences learning Italian and visiting or living in Italy. Join our open Facebook group and share about all things Italian! —Kathryn Occhipinti

Five Tips to Celebrate San Martino in Venice, a Legend and Traditional Menu — La Venessiana

Venice, Italy


San Martino's Day Candy
Candy for sale to celebrate San Martino in Venice, Italy 2017, courtesy of La Venessiana

You can best witness the Feast of San Martino in Venice at the Rialto Market. This is a “hub” offering all the ingredients we need to prepare traditional spicy dishes, reflecting the harvest now arriving in the city because it’s the end of the agricultural year, the ancient Venetian capodanno agricolo. November is a transition…Read…

via Five Tips to Celebrate San Martino in Venice, a Legend and Traditional Menu — La Venessiana