FEATURES » Halloween Italian Style

Halloween Italian Style

Halloween’s popularity in Italy has grown in the last years, but just a few decades ago Halloween in Italy was just an American holiday, a sort of Carnival known by Italians through movies and McDonald’s.

The real Italian festivity is All Saints Day (November 1st). The 2nd of November is the day dedicated to the remembrance of the dead by visiting cemeteries taking flowers and candles to dead relatives and friends.  

In many Italian regions in the days between October 31st and the day of Saint Martin (November 11th) there has been the folkloristic custom to celebrate life and death with traditions expressing the strong link between those still alive and those who are no longer on this earth. In different regions of Italy, the ancient Celtic traditions have become a part of local celebrations related to Christian values .

Until the first half of the 20th Century, this period of the year was the only occasion for children to receive presents, toys and sweets,  that were usually believed to be brought by “the dead”. 

In Italy there are many customs related to the night between the 1stand 2nd of November .

In Valle d'Aosta, for example, for geographical reasons, the Celtic tradition is kept alive. Despite the advent of Christianity, some aspects of the ancient Irish festival of Samhain linked to the origin of Halloween, were incorporated in the feast of All Saints and the following day, the day of the dead. By tradition, in fact, in this region in the night between the 1st and 2nd of November, it was usual to leave food on the tables for the dead.

Also in Piedmont it is tradition to set the table with a place for the dead coming to visit the live. In Val D' Ossola, families, after dinner, went to the cemetery to leave the empty houses for the dead who were returning to visit. The sound of bells marked the moment of coming home and symbolized the reconciliation of the dead.

Pumpkins are the protagonists of the Venetian tradition according to which, once emptied, were painted and transformed into lanterns. The candles placed in them represented the resurrection.

The " Carità di murt " was instead the ancient custom of the poor Emilians linked to the habit of going from house to house asking for food of any kind in order to calm the souls of the dead.


In Abruzzo, in addition to decorating pumpkins, young people knocked on doors, asking for donations in memory of the dead.

In Apulia People honoured the souls of their dead preparing tables intended solely for the passage of the spirits, who, according to popular belief, remained in the home until Christmas if not until the Epiphany.

In Calabria, the tradition included a procession which headed towards the cemeteries and after the ritual prayers and blessings, there was a feast full of food directly on the graves .

In Sicily and in other regions of the South, All Saints' Day is a magical and special holiday, especially for children who receive gifts from the dead. Sweets and dried fruit are the prizes for the children who have been good throughout the year.

In Sardinia, after the usual visit to the cemetery, according to tradition, the family after dinner didn’t clear the table because the leftovers remained there to welcome the souls of the dead. The morning after, the children knocked on the doors of the houses, saying " Dead, dead! " and they received sweets and treats.

The traditions also included typical dishes. In Romagna, a region well known for its cooking, they prepare the “piada dei morti”, a very tasty round flatbread filled with nuts, almonds, raisins and the red wine of Romagna, the Sangiovese. Another sweet prepared during this time in Romagna is the “fava dei morti”, a little biscuit made of almonds.

In Sicily the typical dish for this time of year is the “pupi ‘i zuccuru”, a sweet bread shaped like little dolls, and the “dead bones”, biscuits having the shape of bones that are particularly hard to bite. Very peculiar is the “frutta marturana”, which is marzipan shaped into real fruits with an inviting perfume.     

Giulia Lombardo

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