In recent years, Halloween has become part of Italian life, but if it’s fun to take part in the celebrations derived from Celtic traditions and pagan customs, it must be said that Italy also had its own traditions and customs long before that of the modern day Halloween celebrations.
The celebration of All Souls is common to all Europe and celebrates the end of summer and the beginning of winter (the “end” of one season and the beginning of another, that’s where the idea of death and rebirth comes from) this celebration in Italy is so old it can be traced back to Ancient Greece.
Italy celebrates All Saints -“Ognissanti” on November 1st and All Souls -“Commemorazione dei defunti” on November 2nd and does so by following different Regional traditions. In no part of Italy is the Festival of the Dead so profoundly felt as it is in Sicily.
In the days leading up to November 2nd, hundreds of little Fiere dei Morti – Fairs of the Dead decorate the streets of every Sicilian town and village. Stalls sell typical treats the crozzi ‘i mottu (bones of the dead), the pupatelli biscuits full of toasted almonds, the taralli ring cakes covered in icing sugar, the S-shaped nucatoli biscuits, and the white and brown Tutù.
Although, the queen of them all is the “Frutta di Martorana” which means marzipan made with almond flour and shaped in any kind of fruits and vegetables. The name Martorana comes from the Nuns of the Monastery of Martorana, since these nuns decorated empty fruit trees with marzipan fruit to impress an archbishop that came visiting the Monastery during Easter.
Another typical sweet is Pupi ri zuccaru which are made in the shape of Sicilian puppets knights or sugar puppets. These figures are made from solid sugar and sugar strands. Traditionally, these so-called Sicilian puppets represented knights and paladins on horseback. Nowadays, however, they may depict dancers, little “dames”, footballers, or the children’s favourite personalities.
The 2nd of November is an important day, a day that children look forward to in anticipation every year, as a deceased relative of the family is said to visit on that night, and bring them gifts plus many of the delicious sweets mentioned above. The children had to be very careful however, because if the Dead arrived while they were still awake, they would tickle their feet.
Once everyone is fed and the presents have been found, the whole family will go to the cemetery, carrying flowers. Here, they will light candles, play among the graves to show appreciation for the toys received, and then enjoy a good feast.
All Souls’ Day is not only a commemoration of the dead, but also a real celebration of their lives. They may not be with us anymore in body, but it is believed that they remain close in spirit. Although it is a sad occasion, children remember their relatives & friends with a smile, not with fear.