Halloween has not traditionally been celebrated in Italy. To be more precise, the Halloween as a mainstream, festive event with its complement of tricks-or-treats and costume parties has not traditionally been celebrated in Italy. However, spooky stories, jack-o’-lanterns, and processions have been around for a while, being of Catholic roots or —even further back in time—reminiscent of ancient pagan rituals.
Halloween, All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day
Italy has traditionally celebrated All Saints’ Day—that is, Ognissanti—on November 1 and All Souls’ Day—known as il giorno dei morti—on November 2. In reality, the Catholic tradition has long included a third festive day prior to those—All Saints’ Eve—which is, indeed, Halloween. These three days should be devoted to honoring saints and to praying and thinking about the recently departed souls who are still not in heaven. For most Italians, however, until the very recent decades, Ognissanti and il giorno dei morti were the rule, while Halloween was considered—albeit wrongly—something “American”.
When and how “American” Halloween took over
While Italians were a little late to the party, since the 1980s, Halloween has started to become more and more popular—with all its “American” trimmings, of course. Today, with the beginning of October, you see jack-o’-lanterns and spiderwebs popping up on windowsills and shop windows. On October 31, there are parties at school and at night, people gather in clubs, bars, or other venues. (Halloween house parties are not very common in Italy). There are also neighborhood trick-and-treats, and scary costumes everywhere. Since costumes in general are a Carnival thing, to have their own flare, Halloween costumes need to be spooky. That said and this version of Halloween being a recent addition to Italian festivities, there are no specific Halloween stories for children or grown-ups. Italian kids are told the Jack-O-Lantern story, and local ghosts might be evoked—like the ever-green Fantasma Formaggino (Cheese Ghost) or the Italian Boogeyman, the Babau— but nothing really Halloween-related. There are, however, a few very popular legends that can be a good fit for the night.
A little spookiness for everyone
As they say, there’s no Halloween without a scary story to be told, right? For younger kids, any story with the above mentioned Fantasma Formaggino—or any of its variations, like the scary Fantasma Puzzapazza (CrazyStinky Ghost)—would do. Older kids or adults—why not?— might be entertained with the most famous urban legends, many of which are from … the US, for a change! There are also some native urban legends, however, like the Fantasma Runner (Runner Ghost) story, where Parco Sempione (a major park in Milano) is jaunted by the ghost of a woman in a sweatsuit who stops people to warn them about the harm of smoking. And how about the morkies from Trentino Alto-Adige? If they don’t like you, these dwarf-like creatures might turn into little evils and make your life really, really hard. Finally, the Vecchina Fantasma di Genova (the Little-Old-Woman Ghost from Genoa), who appeared for the first time in 1989 and comes back every five years looking for an alley in the old town. Unfortunately, this alley doesn’t exist anymore, and this pour soul is doomed to an eternal search. If you’re short on urban legends, however, haunted houses and séances work any time, Halloween night included. Oh, one thing you won’t find in Italy around this time of the year: pumpkin spice latte, or any of the many pumpkin-flavored drinks or snack so popular in the US. Italians love their zucche (pumpkins), but they stick to more traditional ways of using them in the kitchen.
By Claudia Quesito
Also read: What do Italians do in September?