17 January is World Pizza Day. Well, not really, but kinda it is. Or, it could become. Ok, let me explain.
Everything starts with an old pagan tradition of farmers celebrating the arrival of a new agricultural cycle lighting up bonfires. Then Christianity came, and this celebration became associated with a saint, Saint Anthony the Abbot.
According to Christian mythology (err, can I say mythology without offending anyone?) Saint Anthony went to hell to steal flames and bring fire to the people. Therefore is now celebrated as the patron saint of all the arts and jobs that deal with fire: from ironmongers to firemen, to bakers and… yes, you got it, to pizza makers as well.
Nowadays, Saint Anthony is celebrated in many villages all around Italy with bonfires called “focarazzi”. This happens on 17 January. In Naples, there’s even a small district called Borgo di Sant’Antonio (“o’ Buver'”, in local language), where the tradition is perpetuated.
Apparently, though, there’s even another tradition connected to this day. It seems that in the past, around the first half of the last century, pizzaioli in Naples used to close their pizzerias after lunch and reunite with their families in the Capodimonte area. There, they celebrated their patron saint, Sant’Antuono – whose pictures they had hanging on their oven to guard them – with a huge bonfire, called “cippo” in Neapolitan language.
This is what Antonio Pace, president of AVPN (Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana) remembers. A few years ago, coming back from South Korea, where the UNESCO commission had just declared the art of Neapolitan pizza maker a World Intangible Heritage, he decided to reignite the tradition to celebrate the glorious event. The association proposed the Municipality of Naples to declare the 17 January a day dedicated to the Neapolitan pizzaioli. The idea was welcomed and, with a local decree, the official Day of the Pizza Maker (Giornata del Pizzaiuolo) had its inception in 2018.
Now, unfortunately, in Italy we don’t have an authority that can validate these decrees on a national level – kind like the National Pizza Day in the US, to say. And in fact, for a couple of years, this event remained unknown outside of Naples.
Last year, though, the guys at AVPN had an idea: thinking of how throughout the latest months people around the world had been forced at home by the pandemic, and many of them had re-discovered the art of home pizza making, they decided to fulfill an old dream of their, and dedicate a whole day teaching the world how to make a real Neapolitan pizza: that’s why they created the Vera Pizza Day.
Livestreaming simultaneously from different AVPN approved pizzerias in the world, in 24 hours they gave several pizza masterclasses in different languages, covering all the continents from Australia to the United States through the different time zones. The beginning of the event was marked with that very bonfire that it is said gathered the pizzaioli in the past: the new headquarters of AVPN is in fact located in the same Capodimonte area.
A strange thing happened, though: the initiative found its way through a lot of media articles that turned it into a World Pizza Day, as it was some sort of globally celebrated holiday, without even mentioning the history behind or the AVPN itself. Let alone any association with the Neapolitan pizza, Saint Anthony and his connection with pizza makers.
So, what was originally a day to celebrate the pizzaioli, became by popular will a pizza day. Which actually the people at AVPN didn’t mind. The former Minister of Agriculture Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio last year declared how “it is necessary to make the 17 January the official date for a World Pizza Day”.
This year the communication it’s been even stronger. And with a world paying more and more attention to the art of Neapolitan pizza, looking directly at its background and its home birth, the idea of an official World Pizza Day that sees its roots in the city of Naples couldn’t be too far to become reality.