Halloween in Italy is America's fault? ~ Romancing Italy

Nov 2, 2008

Halloween in Italy is America's fault?

October 31 comes around and out pop the witches and goblins of all shapes and sizes. In America it's not just a celebration for kids anymore. They trick or treat the streets, but adults get dolled up for grand parties at night too.

I was with my friend at the Celtic festival the other day, when she pointed at one of the knarly old witches with the pointed black hat, long bent nose and flowing black robes. A true beauty.

Then I heard her say "We can thank you guys for Halloween". A small "humph" punctuated her displeasure which was quickly followed with "And for McDonalds".

I know we have "celebrated" Halloween in the States for as long as I can remember, abut I didn't think we came up with the idea. After all, Americans from a long, long time ago were really European transplants.

A little reading confirmed my suspicion. We can blame the Celts. The Italians I've talked with about Halloween don't look upon it with favorable eyes. I really think they resent it, from a religious point of view I suspect. And they point their fingers at the States for spreading the bad vibes.

I object of course.

For one, the Celts had a huge hand coming up with the idea in the first place. They dedicated this day, the last day of their calendar year, to honor the dead. Since they believed that the spirits of the dead still roamed the earth, and that some spirits weren't always nice when you ran into them, gifts were left out to appease them. It's like giving a bad dog a nice juicy slab of meat so it will eat that instead of you.

America took it and drained it of its meaning and each year it just became one big party, with all the spirit stuff left out. But to say that America caused Italy to start observing Halloween bothered me when next door neighbors, France and Britain up north have had their Halloween practices forever.

Then I started to see things from a different point of view.

Romans conquered the Celts and mixed in their observances. In order to 'christianize' the ritual, November 1 was declared All Saints Day...a day to honor the dead. Hmmm, sounds familiar but with a twist. There are no bonfires to burn sacrifices and the dead are all "saints", the spirits of loved ones - no bad spirits involved.

With the spread of Catholicism and christianity, it is understandable that there would be a desire to wipe out the old pagan rituals and of course a country like Italy, a country with a long religious history would not encourage an observance like Halloween...until the watered down version popped up in America.

I can't say we did anyone any favors though. I for one don't believe the spirit of my dead friends are around and watching what happens to their living friends and family. I believe there is a life after death, but not right away, so I have never participated in the observance for All Saints Day. The dead have no knowledge of my comings or goings and if I visit their graves or not.

I know a lot of people believe otherwise, evidenced from the lines of cars jamming the already small Italian roads, filled with people coming to leave flowers and candles, in the traditional red glass holders, at local cemeteries. Do you visit too? And what do you believe?

Returning at night from our jaunt to Bellinzano in Switzerland, I passed cemetery upon cemetery lit up like christmas trees adorned in red, the lights of the candles flickering peacefully on a very quiet and windless night.

Interesting links:
The Real Origins of Halloween
Halloween History and Origin

Filed under Lifestyle


  1. How was your trip to Bellinzona Bev? Hope you had a good trip! We just got back yesterday from Lucerne, I've posted some photos on my blog today and will be posting more during the week.

    So how do you like Borgosesia?

  2. Hi Ann,
    I loved Bellizona, even if the weather wasn't the best. We walked through the castles and then lunched at Piazza Independenza. As for Borgosesia, I'm not all that crazy for it because I love the south. I don't think people here are any friendlier than those you are finding in Varese. It's a "northern" thing I'm told.

  3. That's what I've heard also, that Northerners here are rather reserved/colder compared to their southern counterparts.

    Bellinzona is a nice little town. My husband goes there on occasion for work then we also go occasionally for a football/soccer match to see the local AC Bellinzona team play. Nice little break from Busto Arsizio.


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