Due to the arrival of the Anglo Halloween and the tradition to “Trick or treat” in Italy, typical Italian traditions on or around All Saint’s Eve seem to have disappeared. Hopefully, this mini-guide to the most interesting ones will keep them very much alive.

Halloween or All Saint’s Eve in Italy

Ordona (Puglia) : the ancient tradition of Ordona takes place the night between the 1st and 2nd of November. All the children in town know that some magic will happen that evening. The sky connects to the earth so that the deceased can pay a visit to their families and greet them. The deceased leave behind a stocking filled with sweets for the children, and the children, before going to bed, leave a special dessert for their loved ones: Cicer Cutt (in dialect) or Grano Cotto, a typical local dessert made with wheat, pomegranate and dark chocolate. Together with the dessert they leave “cooked wine” (vino cotto). The local children believe that their loved ones, after having given a kiss and eaten the food, will fill up the stocking to show their passage on earth, a tradition that is quite similar to the Italian “Befana”.

Teano (Campania): on the eve of the 31st everybody goes around this town signing “Santu Suleviest” (a nursery rhyme dedicated to Saint Silvestro). The next night, instead, every family places candles outside their doors to shed light so beloved deceased family members can find their way home.

Orsara di Puglia (Puglia): in this town, bonfires are lit on the eve of November 1, the ancient tradition of “Fucacost”. The bonfire is made with the wood from broom plants, a kind of wood that burns quickly. The entire town spends days to prepare: those who collect wood, those who make the typical desserts and those who carve the pumpkins. But what is the meaning of this elaborate tradition? The bonfires, of course, serve the loved ones (usually the souls in Purgatory) to find their way back home and thanks to the light of the fire, they can purify their souls thus find their way to heaven. The path is hidden in the candles that burn within the pumpkins. There are similarities with the Anglo traditions of Halloween but, as the town likes to underline, their tradition should not be confused with the Anglo traditions. Most importantly, it is considered the night of light rather than darkness.

Rome: an ancient tradition says that November 2nd was to be spent keeping a loved one company by having a meal near his or her grave. Who knows if this tradition is still respected somewhere today?!

In the Aosta Valley and Piedmont: local families, before going to the cemetery, set the table for loved ones who, according to local folklore, will stop in for a visit at the house while the families are visiting them at the cemetery. During the banquet, the dead speak to each other and predict the future of their living relatives.

Pratola – Peligna (Abruzzo): the families leave the table set and a basin of water so the loved ones can find refreshments while they are passing by earth. The door of the house is left in  fact half open so they feel welcomed.

Veneto: locally they say that on November 2nd the deceased return not only to refresh themselves but also to rest. This is why in towns near Vicenza homes are left empty earlier  than usual with beds well made so that the souls from Purgatory can find a place to rest for the day.

Lecce: historically, a particular shaped candy made of sugar called Fanfullicchia (for only 5 lira) was offered to orphans during the whole week of All Saints Day, a little consolation for them during the saddest week of the year. For centuries, the existence of these candies was totally forgotten. Beginning only a few decades ago, they began to appear and can be bought in front of the “Monumental Cemetery” on November 1st and 2nd. The Lecce population can enjoy its custom once again.

Sinnai and other areas of Sardinia: the tradition of Sinnai is definitely the most similar with the Anglo “Trick or treat” tradtion. This tradition is named “Is Panixedas”, which derives from Spanish and means “Small Offer”. The children dress up like ghosts and go knocking on doors asking for sweets in exchange for a prayer for the deceased. Whereas today children return home full of modern sweets, a long time ago the custom was to receive typical seasonal desserts.

All of these traditions are accompanied by typical Italian cuisine that differ form one are to the next. The most popular one is the “Ossa dei Morti” which means bones of the dead: a cookie shaped like a bone.

Even if some of these traditions are a little creepy, they are very interesting since they celebrate the mysterious connection between the world of the living and the world of the dead. And most of all, they allow the living to feel closer to their loved ones. 

And which All Saints or Halloween traditions are there in your country?
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