How To Celebrate Halloween In Italy (Without Forgetting The Tradition)

The discussions on Halloween highlight the dynamism of Italy’s contemporary culture, capable of embracing new traditions while keeping its heritage alive.

Halloween decorations in the US and in Italy
Halloween decorations. Photo: Clint Patterson on Unsplash.

Italy, a country deeply rooted in family and religious traditions, has recently witnessed a significant shift in its cultural landscape. Halloween, once foreign to local shores, has gradually weaved into the hearts and traditions of new generations. As November 1st marks the so-called ‘Ponte dei morti,’ a bank holiday honoring the deceased, Italians are increasingly anticipating the celebration on the night of October 31st.

For some, these narratives provide the perfect fodder for raising an accusatory eyebrow at Halloween and its Celtic origins. Remarkably, though, we unearth comparable customs in the southern regions of Italy, where residents do something similar to carving pumpkins and illuminating them with flickering candles to dispel malevolent spirits. Notably, the children of Serra San Bruno, a village in the Calabrian inland, have been etching pumpkins into eerie skull-like visages for generations. The kids would merrily wander through the town, asking in the old Calabrian dialect, “Mi lu pagati lu coccalu?”—a quaint way of inquiring, “Can you pay me for this skull?”

Similar traditions sprout across the heel of the peninsula. In Orsara, Apulia, the first day of November is honored with pumpkins and peculiar rituals. Local Catholic congregations embark on processions, knocking on doors for food offerings to praise the departed. This unique ceremony intertwines with an old belief: by placing candles within hollowed pumpkins, they ensure that wandering spirits do not partake in the banquet. This time-honored observance entices at least 20,000 visitors annually, all eager to witness this rare and captivating tradition.

Italian television, film, and media have also played an influential role in popularizing Halloween. The imagery of witches, ghosts, and pumpkins has become familiar to younger audiences through various media outlets. While Halloween has not overshadowed local traditions, it now shares the stage, coexisting with time-honored practices.

Moreover, Halloween shares a close connection with the religious holiday of All Saints’ Day. The days are inextricably linked in a fusion of the sacred and the whimsical. The reverence for departed souls remains paramount in many contexts, even as Halloween revelries fill the air with laughter and celebrations. Yet, Italians nowadays embrace Halloween through diverse means. In cities, the streets come alive with costume parties and masquerades. The little ones delight in trick-or-treating, knocking on doors for treats. The culinary scene also gets a Halloween makeover, with restaurants and bakeries serving spooky-themed delicacies. This diversity showcases the adaptability of Italian culture and its capacity to embrace change while preserving its roots.

The introduction of Halloween to Italian culture has not been without its share of cultural clashes and debates. Traditionalists often express concerns about the erosion of local traditions and the commercialization of Halloween. These discussions, however, highlight the often underrated dynamism of Italy’s contemporary culture, capable of embracing new traditions while keeping its heritage alive. So, whether you celebrate Halloween in Italy with a spooky masquerade or in the family warmth, the essence remains the same: a love for culture, community, and connection across generations.