While Halloween today has been very popular in the United States for generations, it is only recently that the American-style tradition of candy and costumes has been adopted in Italy. However, the roots of our Halloween go back much further…
Halloween is thought to have originated from the ancient pagan festival of Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, a time associated with death. Samhain was celebrated on the night of October 31, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. People would light bonfires and wear costumes to turn away the wandering ghosts. November 1st marked the New Year.
In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1st as a time to honor all saints and martyrs. The holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the pagan traditions. The evening before was known as ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ – hallow meaning ‘holy,’ which later became Halloween. In 1000 A.D., the Catholic Church made November 2 ‘All Souls’ Day,’ a day to honor the dead, in an attempt to replace the pagan festival of the dead with a similar holiday that would be church-approved.
So it should not come as a surprise that many towns in Italy have celebrations on October 31 with customs similar to Halloween as we know it today. Tradition has it that early Christians, in celebrating the commemoration of the dead, would wander their villages asking for a sweet called “pane d’anima” (soul bread); the more sweets they received, the more prayers they addressed to the donor’s deceased.