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Halloween: American tradition or new name for Italian folk traditions?

One of the most important holidays in North America today is Halloween. It is a fact! But It is also indisputable that this festival has very distant European roots: it was the Irish who exported it to America.

In Ireland, for millennia, the Celtic festival of Samhain or “end of summer” was celebrated, one watershed within the year. According to the Celtic calendar used by the peoples of England,of Ireland and Northern France the year began on 31 October. It was a time, therefore, of parties, of stories and traditions that were handed down unchanged or a little more from generation to generation. Until upon arrival in America. Including the Italian one.

But the latter it already retained the memory of traditions belonging to the Italian folklore of the period from the eve of All Saints’ Day at San Martino. One might venture to think that Halloween has united them under one name different popular beliefs: uses, customs, legends related to the rituality of the passage from life to death in this specific period of the year present in every Italian region, from the Aosta Valley to Sicily, from Trentino to Sardinia.

In the Italian agro-pastoral tradition, the cold season was the season of dead. It was also believed that at the beginning of this season there was a twelve-day period in which the dead could return to the world of the living. Since the dead are the keepers of the earth, the protectors of the family, rituals had to be carried out to ingratiate themselves with them.

In the big cities the memory of these has been lost a little varied traditions, but, in some areas of the Peninsula some rites still survive. Each country, hamlet and province has its own. It may happen that in areas just a few kilometers away, belonging to the vaults even in the same province, there are different rituals. In any case, the main features are they have in common: on the eve of All Saints’ Day the souls of the dead roam the countryside in procession. For show them the way home, the living must light lanterns and set the table for the only ones deceased. In some areas of Puglia, a place at the table is added for the soul of the deceased for the whole period, twelve days.

Another point in common are the begging rituals: once the poor, representatives of the incarnation of the dead, they went from house to house asking for gifts and sweets. Over time they were joined by children, who, through these rites and the terrifying tales of souls in pain who roamed the campaigns but who also knew how to be loving and generous if you ingratiate yourself, therefore to be respected, yes they approached with less fear an aspect as frightening but ineluctable as death. As a corollary of during these moments of family gatherings and celebrations, typical dishes and sweets were prepared. In Sicily, for example, in Palermo at this time of the year, the “fair of the dead” took place where the many stalls present were filled with the most extravagant sweets made especially for this occasion as I “Sugar puppets” depicting the paladin but also “you, you” or the bones of the dead. Despite the names extravagant, a real treat!

In conclusion, in a nation like Italy, where life and death often occur they coexist in folk tales, in cultural traditions, in everyday life, it would be nice not todisperse these traditions and continue to make them live year after year whether it is called Halloween or no!

                                                                                                                         Anna Maria Tardiolo

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