Mummies from the monks' corridor in the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo.

Grieve like a Sicilian

My experience of the Sicilian tradition of the Fiera dei Morti and Notte de Zucchero

Lidia Zuin
8 min readDec 13, 2023

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At the beginning of this year, I read the book “This Party is Dead: Grief, Joy and Spilled Rum at the World’s Death Festivals” by Erica Buist. Just like me, she is a journalist who has embarked on several trips around the world to see the many ways different cultures deal with death.

This all started after her father-in-law died suddenly at his home and stayed there with no attendance for eight days, so there’s all the drama about deterioration, putrefaction, and so on. “Funny” enough her husband seemed to have dealt much better with the loss of his own father whereas she tried to find out in other cultures what they could possibly do when they lose someone and how this could possibly help her cope with it.

That said, do I recommend this book? No, definitely not. I think I made some comments in previous newsletters, so I will spare you from a new ranting session. Still, it was through this book that I learned about some Italian festivities: the fiera dei morti (the fair of the dead) and the Notte de Zucchero (sugar night). These festivities happen around the time of Halloween and the Day of the Dead, so last week of October and the first days of November.

For the past years, the Sicilian government has been promoting celebrations around that with traditional Sicilian puppet theater shows, parades, art exhibitions, markets, and activities for children. Catania and Palermo are the two main cities where these things take place, so that’s where I planned to go.

And when I say plan, I say it in the Scandinavian (or anxious) way — months ahead. But this is not the way Sicily works. In fact, they only published the programme of the Notte de Zucchero a few days before it started. A big “fuck you” to foreigners and tourists. But it’s ok, I’m latina, I can survive chaos… I think?

There was nothing happening in Catania when we arrived there. Our host, who was Italian, didn’t even know anything about the fiera dei morti or where it was going to take place. He thought it was going to be in a cemetery, but it turned out to be in a much less charming place: a parking lot near the airport.

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Lidia Zuin

Brazilian journalist, MA in Semiotics and PhD in Visual Arts. Researcher and essayist. Technical and science fiction writer.