Street scene, Assisi

Believe it or not, Halloween—the traditional spooky day of costumes, fright and eating too much candy—is starting to catch on here in Italy. Throughout Italy you will often see carved pumpkins, costumed kids running through the piazzas and signs for Halloween themed parties at local restaurants or clubs. In some areas you’ll even find Halloween tours of medieval towers, castles and creepy catacombs lined with mummies and bones. Celebrations are now widespread enough that it’s safe to say Halloween has been adopted into the Italian culture.

Halloween falls just before two important religious holidays in Italy that come at the beginning of November. The first day of the month is Ognissanti or Tutti i Santi—called All Saints’ Day in English—and is a day dedicated to honoring all of the saints and martyrs who have died for the Catholic faith. In Italy, Ognissanti is a national holiday, and you’ll actually find most businesses closed. The faithful attend mass and celebrate the day together with family, a tradition often forgotten in American culture.

The following day, November 2nd, is called Il Giorno dei Morti or, as is often the case in Italy, simply “Tutti i Morti.” (In America we call it All Souls’ Day, probably since “The Day of the Dead” doesn’t have a good ring to it!) It is a day dedicated to remembering all of our loved ones who have passed away. Cemeteries are crowded on both Ognissanti and Il Giorno dei Morti as Italians pay respect to their ancestors who have since departed by cleaning and decorating their graves with flowers, wreaths and votive candles. Both days are customarily spent with family, and the sense of community is tremendous as people gather to share family stories and memories. In Southern Italy, many who have immigrated to the more industrialized north often return to their native towns and villages to celebrate these two religious holidays.

Historically, Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve, was just the beginning of the celebrations of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. While these are still the main holidays recognized in Italy, Halloween is certainly gaining in popularity. For many Italians, the origin of Halloween matters less than the chance to celebrate another festa (party). Much like in America, children here in Italy enjoy dressing up and walking from store to store through town asking, “Dolcetto o scherzetto?” (Trick or treat?) The wonderful chocolates, candies and traditional treats they take home might just make you want to dress up and join in the fun!

In some areas of Italy you’ll even find Halloween tours of medieval towers, castles and creepy catacombs lined with mummies and bones.

While many of Italy’s Halloween traditions are similar to America, there are some that are uniquely Italian. To experience a distinctly Italian Halloween, head to the small medieval hill town of Corinaldo in the Marche region for La Notte delle Streghe – The Night of the Witches. This year Corinaldo, called the Halloween Capital of Italy, will celebrate the 12th edition of their Halloween festival with music, dancing, and the Miss Strega (Miss Witch) competition—a fun and lively witch–themed fashion and talent show. Frightening!

As Halloween grows in popularity here in Italy, shops are beginning to sell decorations and even a variety of Halloween costumes (although the selection is still often limited to bat, ghost or witch). However, the holiday still remains refreshingly free of the commercialism often associated with it in America—especially when you travel through Italy’s rural hilltop villages. These authentic—and often spontaneous and informal—celebrations are the real treat of Halloween in Italy.

Buon Halloween!

Photo Courtesy of “Andrew & Suzanne” at Flickr