When holidays are so much a part of your life growing up, it’s sometimes hard to remember that not everyone celebrates the same things you do. For me, October always brought with it the challenge of figuring out what costume I would wear for Halloween – not to mention the dreams of all the candy I’d score from the neighbors.
It wasn’t until I visited other countries that I realized my childhood memories of running from house to house yelling “TRICK OR TREAT!” weren’t universally shared. Thanks to things like television and the internet, Halloween is starting to catch on in other parts of the world – including Italy – but it’s still far from the dominant holiday at this time of year.
Halloween in Italy
Halloween decorations in a shop window near Milan
Halloween in Italy is still nothing like Halloween in the United States. You’ll likely see some familiar iconography – plastic or real carved jack-o-lanterns decorating some shop windows and private homes – and Halloween night is getting more popular in bigger cities as a night for costume parties for the grown-ups. Younger generations are more familiar with the concept of going “trick-or-treating” – largely thanks to seeing it on TV shows from other parts of the world – but it’s still not nearly as common in Italy as in the U.S.
Nevermind that “dolcetto o scherzetto” sounds utterly delightful to my ear…
Some businesses, usually restaurants or bars, will hold Halloween-themed parties (sometimes for kids, usually just for adults). More often, Halloween is given a token nod, while Italians pay more attention to the two days that follow it – days that are traditionally important holidays on the Catholic calendar.
All Saints Day in Italy
Chairs set up for All Saints Day at the Vatican
All Saints Day is November 1, and is celebrated by Christians all over the world. All Saints Day traditionally honors all those who have died for the church. Many individual saints have their own feast days on the calendar throughout the year, but November 1 honors all of them collectively. Not only that, if you don’t share your name with one of the saints, then November 1 becomes your feast day as well.
In Italy, if you have the same name as a saint, then their feast day is also a special day for you. You don’t get a day off, but you may get gifts or good wishes from family and friends. This is called your “onomastico,” or your “name day.” If your name isn’t that of one of the saints, then November 1 is your “onomastico” – it’s a catch-all for everyone with a non-saint name.
“All Saints Day” is called “Ognissanti” in Italian, and it’s a national holiday in Italy. Many people will go to services at the church, and many businesses are closed for the day.
All Souls Day in Italy
Decorated graves in Turin on All Souls Day
All Souls Day is November 2. This is another holiday marked around the globe, although more by Catholics than other Christian religions. On November 2, the focus shifts from those who are already saints to those who have died but haven’t yet been “purified.” These people are referred to as the “faithful departed,” and devout families will mark All Souls Day by tending to their loved ones’ graves, praying that their souls reach heaven.
In Italian, November 2 is called “Il Giorno dei Morti,” or “The Day of the Dead,” which is a common name for the day in other parts of the world as well. This is another day typically spent with family, as trips to the cemetery to clean off and re-decorate family graves and tombs are a group effort.
There are sometimes church services on All Souls Day as well, and some businesses may still be closed for the day, although November 2 isn’t a national holiday in Italy.