Halloween in Italy - Ognissanti and Festa dei Morti
Technically speaking, Italy does not have a Halloween per se, but the tradition is slowly gaining more popularity. Carnevale, the holiday which comes 40 days before Easter to celebrate Lent, is the main holiday where there are costumes, candy, etc. But Italian retailers are noting that candy sales around Halloween have been increasing the last ten years or so, as the Halloween tradition may be taking hold in Italy. You’re starting to see more private Halloween parties for adults. Who knows? Maybe it will overtake the Carnevale festival someday.
In Italy, they do however celebrate All Saint's Day (“Ognissanti”) on November 1 (a national holiday), honoring all the saints and martyrs that have died for the Catholic church. Then on the following day (November 2nd), All Soul's Day, or “Il Giorno dei Morti” is a day for remembering those that were close to us that have passed away. Italians will typically visit the cemetery on either of those two days, and bring flowers and candles to honor their departed loved ones.
Contrary to what you may think, this is a festive time in Italy; more so in the southern regions. It is actually a celebration of life and the importance of family. Many businesses, banks, etc. will be closed during these two days, although November 1st is the official legal holiday in Italy.
Customs and Traditions
For many centuries, this holiday, along with the Epiphany (celebrated January 6th, i.e. La Befana), was the only holiday where children received gifts. For “La Festa dei Morti” the adults would leave assorted sweets and toys out for the children on November 2nd. The children believed that if they were good all throughout the year they would awaken to various sweets and toys left by their departed grandparents, etc.
Of course, food is an important part of the Italian culture. Some of the traditional sweets that they would make are “Ossa dei Morti”, or literally “bones of the dead”, hard teeth-breaking white cookies in the shape of skeletons and bones, made from almonds, sugar, lemon, etc. “Fave dei morti”, or beans of the dead are little bean-shaped cakes made with similar ingredients. In Sicily, the “Pupi di Zucchero” or sugar puppets (view picture below), made with a sweet dough, and hand-painted, is usually placed on the table with dried fruits, almonds, candy, and assorted other goodies. Sometimes, they will also set an empty seat at the dinner table to welcome a departed one.
These are traditions and festivals that originated in Pagan times and have been adopted by the Romans and incorporated into the current day culture. If you have a chance to visit Italy during this time of year, you will get to witness a beautiful and great tradition.