“Io sono Settembre” (I am September), a classic Italian filastrocca (children’s rhyme) begins. "Ai poverelli rifaccio le spese" (I do the grocery shopping for the poor--by leaving fruit on the trees), "bagno le botti" (I wash, or fill, the barrels) and "porto le mele, i fichi, l’uva ed ogni piacere" (I bring apples, figs, grapes and every pleasure).
According to the ancient Roman calendar, in which the year began in March, September was the seventh month and took its name from the Latin septem. As one Italian saying goes, Settembre, caldo e asciutto, maturare fa ogni frutto (September, warm and dry, makes every fruit ripen).
But change is in the air, as the hours of sunlight diminish and those of darkness increase. According to another proverb, In settembre, la notte al dì contende (in September, the night competes with the day).
Many of September’s holy days are linked to the harvest (il raccolto). Per la Santa Croce (for the feast of Santa Croce, the Holy Cross) on September 14, la pertica sul noce (the walnuts are ready for harvest by knocking them down with a pole). Per San Matteo piangi le ultime pesche che mangi. (For Saint Matthew’s feast on September 21, you cry for the last peaches that you eat.)
September 29 celebrates the Santi Arcangeli: the Archangels Michele (Michael), Gabriele (Gabriel) and Raffaele (Raphael). But beware of rain on this day! Se l’angelo si bagna l’ale, piove fino a Natale. (If the angel gets its wings wet, it will rain until Christmas.)
In researching September’s saints, I came upon the story of Santa Sofia, whose name derives from the Greek word for wisdom and who lived in Rome under the rule of the cruel Emperor Hadrian, who executed thousands of Christians. The widowed Sofia had three daughters (tre figlie), whom she named after the core virtues of Christianity: Faith (Fede), Hope (Speranza) and Charity (Carità).
Word of the beautiful and remarkable young girls reached Hadrian, who summoned them to his palazzo. When he demanded that they worship the ancient gods (antichi dei), the girls refused. The furious emperor ordered them to be tortured.
Twelve-year-old Fede was scourged and placed on a red-hot grill yet remained unharmed (sana e salva). Ten-year-old Speranza was cast into a cauldron of boiling oil and pitch, but the kettle melted around her like wax (come la cera). Nine-year-old Carità was thrust into a furnace (una fornace), which exploded, burning her tormentors.
At Hadrian’s order, all three girls were beheaded (decapitate). Their loving mother laid the three headless corpses in a coffin and thanked God for bringing them as His brides (spose) into heaven. Three days later, on September 30, Sofia died. The gift she leaves behind at the end of every September is an eternal one: la sapienza (wisdom).
Words and Expressions
Settembrino –- of September
Agosto prepara la cucina, settembre la cantina –- August prepares the larder, September the wine cellar.
A settembre chi è esperto non viaggia scoperto –- In September those with experience don’t travel uncovered
Salvia e rosmarino si trapiantano con il sole settembrino –- Sage and rosemary are transplanted with September’s sun
Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and the New York Times best-selling La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.
Click below to listen to a lovely September song: