It’s the big question on everyone’s mind at this time of year. The weather is beginning to get crisp (or already is), and nothing sounds like more fun than traipsing from door to door, tripping over jack-o-lanterns, and asking for candy. But first we all have to ask ourselves one thing: what will I be for Halloween this year?
The familiar question is actually a pretty new one in Italy. The first “real” Halloween celebration in Italy was in 1993, when a bunch of young people got together to have an “American” Halloween. They chose a famous, spooky bridge in Tuscany to play games, hold costume contests, and watch scary movies. According to legend, the “Ponto della Maddelena,” – an elaborate bridge with impressive arches – was built with the help of an evil spirit, making it the perfect place to celebrate the spooky holiday.
But while Halloween is becoming a more popular holiday in Italy – with haunted amusement parks and Halloween candy popping up all over the country – the real celebration takes place on the days following the last night of October.
The first of November is known as All Saints Day, a day in which Italians celebrate the deceased whose souls are believed to be in heaven. All Souls Day is on the second of November, meant to commemorate the souls of departed loved ones who haven’t quite made it to heaven yet. “Halloween” is actually derived from “All-Hallows-Eve,” the Eve of the Holy Ones, or Eve of All Saints Day.
The trio of celebrations are actually all part of the Roman Catholic tradition (the major religion in Italy), but the tradition of remembering the departed with special festivities grew out of pagan traditions of celebrating the dead.
The pagan Irish, Scottish, and Romans (just to name a few) all believed that the late fall – when the harvest was in and the earth was barren and gray – was when the dead spirits wandered the earth. The spirits would often visit their earthly homes before journeying on to the next life. The jack-o-lantern comes out of the Celtic tradition of “Samhein,” an end-of-harvest celebration of lights. The light glowing in the gourds was meant to scare off evil spirits (who also wandered with the good spirits). Parentalia was a Roman festival during which the Romans quietly remembered and honored their deceased parents. They brought offerings to tombs and celebrated with their families in the late fall. As time went on – and the Roman Catholic religion had its effect on Europe – the celebrations gradually evolved into what we have now. Dressing up and trick-or-treating, therefore, aren’t exclusively American, but came out of the traditions of the English, Irish, and even Romans. European immigrants brought their traditions over to America where the celebration took on the lively character we all know and love.
Italian Halloween at the Ponto della Maddelena, while Americanized, still keeps with the more Italian celebrations of All Saints and All Souls Days. “Ponto della Maddelena” means “The Bridge of St. Mary Magdalene.” While the old bridge may have a spooky legend, it is in fact dedicated to a saint, making it the perfect place to celebrate Halloween one night and the more traditional Italian holiday the next morning.
Wherever Halloween and its surrounding holidays are celebrated, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. People want to believe that their departed loved ones still walk among us, or – if not quite – are never too far away.
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