At the beginning of October, supermarkets and shops in Italy get ready to celebrate Halloween and start to decorate with pumpkins, bats, black cats and so on. However, you will also see options that are typical of Italian traditions for this time of year.
Is Halloween a thing in Italy?
Halloween is an imported holiday, so generally Italians don’t celebrate it, although some go to party or kids go around for trick or treat, but you won’t see houses decorated the way you see in the US. At first, Halloween was just a holiday we studied during lessons about English language and culture. About 20 years ago, the priest of our local church started to make rooms of the oratory available for us middle school kids. We were inspired to celebrate Halloween from US movies and TV series, and all we wanted was to put on some make up and wear a witch hat. We brought snacks and sweets and beverages to the oratory, someone had a stereo and every now and then the priest and perpetua checked on us with the excuse that the music was too loud. It was convenient for our parents too, because they were sure we were safe and in good hands. Starting high school, we stopped these Halloween parties and the new generations carried on instead.
Despite not being an actual holiday, some Italians like to go to themed parties, and little groups of kids do trick or treat even in small communities. It really depends on the person or parent. Traditionally in fact, Italians have another important holiday for which they dress up and that’s Carnevale in February.
Italy’s own traditions for the Halloween period include Ognissanti (All Saints’ Day), the Day of the Dead, and the Day of National Unity and Armed Forces.
What does the All Saints’ Day celebrate in Italy?
Ognissanti is celebrated every year on November 1 and it’s a public holiday. Its origins and meaning are very ancient and are common to several churches. There are references, such as the homily of John Chrysostom in 407 that All Saints’ Day was a celebration for the Sunday following Pentecost. Infact it is maintained to this day by eastern churches that its date should be May 13. In the western church, the recurrence probably derives from the Roman tradition Dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres. This was the celebration of the anniversary of the conversion of the Pantheon into the church dedicated to the Virgins and the Martyrs, which took place on May 13.
Pope Gregory III chose November 1 as the date for All Saint’s Day, as it was that of the consecration of the St Peter chapel to to the relics of the Holy Apostles and of all the Saints, martyrs and confessors. At the time of Charlemagne, the day was celebrated almost everywhere in November, so much so that Pope Gregory IV later issued the decree formalising it.
The day after Ognissanti is the Day of the Dead that is not a holiday. To put it simple, if you visit Italy on November 1, offices and shops will be closed (except some malls), but they will be open on November 2. This means that Italians use the week before Ognissanti to pay visits to cemetries to clean graves and offer fresh flowers. The goal is for many to already have done this before November 2 to show respect for their ancestors on the actual commemoration day.
Chrysanthemum is considered the flower of the dead and it’s bad custom to offer them as a gift to friends or lovers. There’s no real reason why: it’s just because of its seasonality, since the chrysanthemum blooms in November, just in conjunction with the celebrations of the Day of the Dead. This correlation does not exist in other cultures where the chrysanthemum acquires a completely different and opposite meaning to the Catholic one.
What to eat for All Saints’ Day
According to an ancient tradition that has now almost disappeared, tables should be set with delicacies of all kinds to welcome the souls of the dead who come back to visit us from the afterlife.
There is no standard menu for All Saints’ Day or the Day of the Dead, but there are some seasonal ingredients that it’s become customary to put on the table. It’s recommended to use chestnuts, pumpkin, spices and legumes. In Piedmont, we usually eat chickpeas with salamini and brutti ma buoni (lit. ugly but good or yummy), made with hazelnuts. Below you can find the original version and a vegan option.
Brutti ma buoni classic recipe
Ingredients: 80g egg whites, 160g granulated sugar, 120g chopped hazelnuts (hazelnut flour is ok too).
Whip the egg whites until they become white, then slowly add the sugar until you get soft peaks; now combine the chopped hazelnuts or the hazelnut flour. Using a spoon, form the cookies: remember that they are called brutti so you just add spoonfuls on a baking tray without worrying too much! Cook in a preheated oven at 150 deg C for 30 minutes.
Brutti ma buoni vegan recipe
Ingredients: 120g cane sugar, 120g chopped hazelnuts, 60g flour (all purpose ok), 40g water
Mix the dry ingredients together; slowly add the water until you can get spoonfuls of mixture to add to a baking tray. Cook in preheated oven at 180 deg C for about 10 minutes. (I also put chocolate chips in mine just because….)
Once they’re cool, enjoy them with a cup of tea!