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Sometimes Money Does Grow on Trees
Page 2 of 2
by Flora Mitidiero Raehl
Looking back I have to wonder if this wasn't his way to connect the traditions of his old country with his new world. You see, in his village of Alessandria there is an annual festival called Festa dell' Abete. A literal translation is Festival of the Fir. On the last Sunday of April, it seems like the entire town goes into the forest to chop down the fir tree, or Pita as they call it. While this is going on spectators are serenading each other with their bagpipes, tambourines and concertinas, toasting each other with their homemade wine, eating, dancing, and singing . Once the tree falls to the ground the trunk of the tree is stripped clean of all leaves and branches and rubbed with wax— all but the very top of the tree where eventually gifts will be tied to the uppermost branches. When I say gifts, I'm talking about the most precious of gifts to these mountain people, a bottle of homemade wine, a round of homemade cheese, fresh, still warm ricotta, the fattest rabbit or chicken from the home — yes, it's true, at one time live animals were tied into the branches. A parade of sorts drags the tree to the center of the village, the "gifts" are hidden in the tree and it is then straightened in the air and held securely in place by rope tied to huge metal links in the cement. The music, dancing and drinking continue until someone is chosen to shimmy up the tree to try and retrieve one of the gifts. The wax on the tree trunk makes the climbing all the more challenging. The festivities continue until all the gifts are gone, and more than likely well into the night! Legend is that this is a festival in honor of St. Alexander, the patron saint of the town, others tell me it's the first chance to celebrate after a long, cold winter. I'm not sure which is more true, but what I realize is that as we are approaching Spring, I wonder if this long-standing tradition continues the way it was told to me by my beloved Papa, and I find myself yearning to be there to see it for myself.
Pita - Circa 1950
What I also wonder is how Papa came up with the idea of a "money tree". I'm not sure if my grandfather was trying to create a new tradition by merging the idea of Festa dell' Abete and the American custom of a Christmas tree, or if it's just a sentimental memory on my part. Each year until I was about 12 years old I would get this money tree that would promptly disappear. Until the day came that I was going shopping for my wedding dress and my mother handed me a bank book and with tears in both our eyes she explained that this was all the "money tree" money. So even though he was across the ocean, back to the little village and old country ways, (he moved back to Italy when I was 12) and was much too old to travel back to America for my wedding day, he gave me the most special "gift" of all and he would be there with me in the most special place — my heart.
Article Published 4/1/11
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