Last Updated on November 28, 2023 by Laura Teso
Do we have Halloween in Italy? Tricky question. Traditionally we don’t. We have Ognissanti or Tutti i Santi, a public holiday celebrating all Saints, on November 1. As many other feasts it has roots in a pagan celebration, probably the Celtic Samhain (celebrating the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter), substituted at some point (in 835) by Pope Gregorio IV. The next day, November 2, is All Souls’ Day. Halloween as you may intend it is just a recent “acquisition“.
When I was a kid, Halloween in Italy was not a thing. We had never heard of it. Or maybe we saw it in American films and TV shows. For example, “Happy Days” was a success when I was in the primary school. By the way, did you know that in Italian Richie was translated as Ricky because the sound of Richie was considered too strange for us Italians? As you know, in Italy films and shows are all dubbed by dubbing actors. Anyway, at that time October 31 was nothing for us.
But once upon a time there was another tradition somehow related to Halloween. According to an article I recently read, in the whole Po Valley there was the custom to prepare the “lumere“, carved pumpkins in which people used to place candles to lighten the roads or to drive away bad spirits. Plus, every family used to prepare a so called “deads dish“, il piatto dei morti, usually containing chestnuts and milk. Sadly, this tradition went almost completely lost, except for small countryside or mountain villages. And, with time, kids kind of adopted the foreign tradition instead.
November 1 and November 2
The day after, November 1, is Tutti I Santi and also my elder brother’s Maurizio birthday.
November 2 is instead All Souls’ Day. In Italy it has a more macabre name, “Il giorno dei Morti” (The day of the Dead). A day in which we are supposed to go to the cemetery to pay respect to our dear departed. But November 2 is not public holiday (and honestly I never understood why).
Our family tradition
As a family tradtion, each year we used to go to our home village on November 1st. First we celebrated my brother’s birthday with my grandmother’s apple cake, sweet potatoes, tangerines, nuts and peanuts. Peanuts in Italian are arachidi [ah-RAH-kee-dee], but in Venetian dialect are bagigi [bah-GEE-gee], which is a funnier name in my opinion.
After the celebration we walked to the cemetery and we made a tour of all our relatives and friends resting there. My father pointed at a photo and told me: This was my brother, This was my father (I never met him, cause he died before I was born).
My dear Nitta
Some people were strangers to me, other were very dear, like a sweet and gentle lady who looked after me some times when my parents had to travel. Her name was Anita, nicknamed Nitta. I loved her cause she prepared me things I loved, like frittata or panino con stracchino, a super tender rindless cheese. She was nice, never scolding me, always smiling, very different from my mother. Plus she had a garden where to play. In the city I had no garden. But on the other hand she snored at night 🙂 and I couldn’t sleep.
For us it was simply that. A day to spend with the family. We still do it. I confess I don’t go every year, but my parents and my brother Maurizio do. It is my Aunt who prepares the apple cake.
Halloween in Italy – main traditions
But in other regions there are different customs:
- In Sicily: during the Ognissanti night the dead bring sweet treats to the good kids. Obviously the sweets are prepared by mamme and nonne. Their name is dolci di Martorana.
- In some regions (for example in Friuli Venezia Giuli and Lombardy) people leaves a water basin and some bread for the dead, in case they come back.
- In many regions people used to (I don’t know if they still do it – not in the cities, I guess) prepare a decked table for the dead or at least some sweets called Fave, Stinchetti or Ossi da Morti.
I also read that the tradition of carving a pumpkin is ancient in some Italian regions. If you’re a loyal reader you already know how to say pumpkin in Italian. You don’t? Well, go watch my silly video on mycornerofitaly YouTube channel. And please, subscribe if you find it funny! Grazie mille!
Honestly I didn’t know it was also an Italian tradition. I thought it was imported from USA. In fact, I personally witnessed the progressive taking root of the American Halloween in Italy: costumes parties and kids trick or treating. Since then we only saw people wearing costumes during Carnevale. It was not a thing when I was young. In fact it started when I was at the end of high school 20 years ago. And I guess it was an excuse to celebrate. But every year there are criticisms by Catholics about the Halloween celebration. I think that too much restriction is just negative… for them.
What is wrong if kids want to put on a costume and play a bit or young adults have fun at a party? I admit, I love seeing kids in costumes, they’re adorable. Anyway I see no harm in this. Unless, of course, we loose our own traditions. What do you think?
Trick or Treat?
PS added on October 2017 I just realized I did not mention “Trick or Treat?”. In Italian it was translated as “Dolcetto o Scherzetto?” (Little Sweet or Little Trick?).