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Halloween - The italian origins of the spookiest holiday

Do you think Halloween is an American holiday unrelated to Italian traditions? To tell the truth, from the north to the south of Italy there are many traces of this festival in the history of Italy. Pumpkins included.

The Irish Festival

Let's start by debunking a myth: Halloween is not an American holiday. It is thought to have been born, however, in Ireland, in the wake of an ancient festival called "Samhain", the Celtic New Year, which marked the transition from summer to winter and from the old to the new year. On this day, it was thought that the afterlife would merge with the world of the living and that spirits could return to wander the earth.

Also in Ireland, the legend of Jack O 'Lantern was born, the secular patron of the festival with its official symbol, the pumpkin. From here the holiday was exported by Irish emigrants of the 19th century to America, where it found great acceptance.

A religious holiday

Italy too, as we know, has its feast of the dead: it is celebrated on November 2 and is a religious holiday. Apparently it has little to do with disguises and “trick or treating?”, but in the past things were different. 

Halloween, All Saints' Day and the Memorial of the Dead are three holidays that have many things in common. Starting from their origin: when the Catholic Church found itself facing the problem of pagan festivals, including that of Halloween, deeply rooted in popular customs, it understood that it was easier to incorporate them than to eradicate them. In response to Halloween, Pope Gregory II moved the feast of All Saints to November 1st; later, the Day of the Dead was also established, November 2.

After all, the Halloween party has been linked to that of All Saints since its birth: the word "Halloween" derives from "All Hallows' Eve", and means "the eve of all Saints".

Traditions, customs and curiosities in Italy

In Orsara di Puglia, an Apulian village in the province of Foggia, instead of Halloween, we celebrate the night of Fucacoste and Cocce Priatorje (“bonfire and heads of Purgatory”). The "cocce" are nothing more than carved pumpkins, originally in the shape of a cross, containing lit candles. Nothing to do with Halloween: the party seems to date back to the year 1000. On the "night of Purgatory", the one between 1 and 2 November, the pumpkins with the symbol of the cross were left in front of the houses to chase away the souls of the damned from the evening banquet, which only good souls could access. At the stroke of midnight, the begging began: hooded men dressed in black walked around in procession knocking on all doors. They asked for "the aneme d’i murt" (literally, "the soul of the dead"), that is, the leftovers from the banquet, which they redistributed to the poor. They carried a lantern in their hands to warm themselves: for this reason the procession was called the “Fucacoste” (“with the fire next to it”). Even today in Orsara this is the brightest night of the year.

Pumpkins are also found in the traditions of Calabria, in particular in Serra S. Bruno (Vibo Valentia). Here the kids carve the pumpkin to reproduce a muortu coccalu, that is a skull: then they wander around the streets asking "Mi lu pagati lu coccalu?" ("Will you pay me for the skull?"), Which is very reminiscent of that "trick or treat?" (“Trick or treat?”) Of the Anglo-Saxon tradition.

In Abruzzo the pumpkins are called "Cocce de morte" and are carried around by young people as the personification of the dead. When they knock on the doors and introduce themselves: "l’aneme de le morte!", The host prepares to offer sweets, dried fruit or small change.

Two very similar traditions still survive in the Aosta Valley and Piedmont: a sumptuous table is prepared for the deceased to have dinner and then a visit to the cemetery is made, to leave the deceased free to feast in peace. It is said that during these dinners the spirits talk to each other, predicting the future of their relatives.

In Friuli, where the ancient Celtic New Year is still celebrated with the La Fiesta dalis Muars, which falls on October 31st. In the local dialect, muars means pumpkin, and it is this vegetable at the center of the celebrations: hollowed out and illuminated, it is placed in front of the door to ingratiate itself with the spirits. In the region it is believed that on this night the dead can leave the tombs and go on pilgrimage to the most isolated churches: according to popular stories, whoever enters the church during one of these nocturnal visits would die at the crowing of the rooster.


In short, even in Italy this holiday is not only celebrated properly but also has ancient origins and popular traditions that are still in vogue now.

Symbols and customs close to Halloween, but very different in meanings.