Last updated on October 25th, 2023
While Halloween in Italy does exist, it’s not as widely celebrated as in North America, or with as much fanfare or commercialism. There are, however, some surprising crossovers between ancient Italian traditions and more modern Anglo-Saxon ones.
Whether you’re visiting Italy in October and want to celebrate the holiday, or you’re just curious about Halloween in Italian culture, you’ll find all you need to know below!
Origins of Halloween
The images associated with Halloween are universal – pumpkins, black cats, witches and trick-or-treating. While the North American and Anglo-Saxon versions of the festival are increasingly popular in Italy too, until fairly recently Halloween was seen as having nothing to do with the country – and all because of the Catholic Church.
Halloween is not an American holiday in origin. It is thought to have begun in Ireland with an ancient festival called ‘Samhain‘, the Celtic New Year. This marked the transition from summer to winter and from the old to the new year. On this day, it was believed that the afterlife merged with the world of the living and that spirits could return to roam the earth.
Italy, like many other countries, has its own festival of the dead – All Soul’s Day. It is celebrated on November 2nd and is a religious holiday. It came about when the Catholic Church was faced with the problem of pagan festivals, including Halloween, being deeply rooted in popular customs. It realized that if you can’t beat ‘em you have to join ‘em – that it was easier to incorporate them than to eradicate them. In response to Halloween, Pope Gregory II moved All Saints’ Day (Ognissanti in Italian, which honors all saints and martyrs who dies for the Church) to November 1st and established All Souls’ Day (Il Giorno dei Morti in Italian, when Italians honor loved ones who have passed and visit their graves) on November 2nd.
Halloween has actually been linked to Ognissanti or All Saints’ Day since the beginning: the very word ‘Halloween’ is derived from ‘All Hallows’ Eve’: ‘the eve of all saints.’
Do Italians Celebrate Halloween?
It might be surprising to learn that there are a lot of traditional crossovers between the Halloween period in Italy and the festival across the ocean…especially involving pumpkins and trick-or-treating!
In Orsara, Puglia they celebrate the night of Fucacoste e Cocce Priatorje (‘bonfires and heads of purgatory’). The ‘cocce‘ are carved pumpkins, originally in the shape of a cross, containing lit candles. This festival probably dates back as far as the year 1000. On the ‘Night of Purgatory,’ the night between November 1st and 2nd, pumpkins with the symbol of the cross were left in front of houses to drive the souls of the damned away from the evening banquet, which only good souls could take part in.
Pumpkins are also traditional in Calabria, especially in the town of Serra San Bruno. Children carve a pumpkin to represent a coccalu di muortu (a skull) then they wander the streets asking ‘Mi lu pagati lu coccalu?’ (‘Will you pay me for the skull?’), something very similar to our own ‘trick-or-treat?’
In the Abruzzo region, pumpkins are called ‘cocce de morte’ (literally dead people’s heads) and are carried around by children. They knock on doors and say ‘l’aneme de le morte!’ (the soul of the dead) and the householder has to offer sweets, dried fruit or some coins.
In the North of Italy in Friuli, the ancient Celtic New Year is still celebrated with the Fiesta dalis Muars, on October 31st. In local dialect, muars means pumpkin. These are hollowed out, lit and placed in front of house. The locals believe that on this night, the dead can come out of their graves and make pilgrimages to the most isolated churches. According to legend, anyone entering a church during one of these nocturnal visits will die at dawn.
What is Halloween Called in Italy?
Halloween in Italy is called just that – Halloween (although because we drop our ‘h’ it may sound more like ‘Alloween).
There are dialectal names for similar festivals and the All Saints’ Day mentioned above and celebrated on November 1st is called Ognissanti or Tutti i Santi.
When is Halloween in Italy?
Halloween in Italy is on October 31st. If the holiday falls during the week, many people celebrate the Friday or Saturday before.
What do Italians do on Halloween?
Apart from the towns mentioned where ancient or pagan traditions are strong, Halloween is much less of an event in Italy than it is in America. You may find people who do a little pumpkin carving, there is a bit of dressing up for kids (but as something ‘creepy’ – like witches, bats and wizards – not random fancy dress). Trick or treating is also fairly rare, except for in larger towns and cities. It’s just not the done thing to send your kids round strangers’ houses. Adults might go to a Halloween disco or a few bars might organize a spooky evening. There are, however, some towns in Italy that organize some pretty spectacular festivals.
There are also things that people do on November 2nd to commemorate the dead, like visiting deceased relatives in cemeteries and taking flowers and candles to the grave. In many places in Italy, it is a custom to make special sweets, called dolci dei morti (cakes of the dead), to celebrate the day. The recipes vary from region to region.
Best Halloween Festivities and Events in Italy
Corinaldo – From October 27th – 31st the town of Corinaldo hosts an event that was the first of its kind in Italy but has now been held for over fifteen years and is considered one of the largest events in the Marche region. There are various art installations and concerts, and the town is decorated with torches and pumpkins that transform it into a spooky fantasy world. They even have a “Miss Strega” (Miss Witch) prize, for the prettiest witch of the festival!
Castelpoggo di Carrara – Lunches open to all are organized. Children are given ‘sfilze,‘ necklaces made of boiled chestnuts and apples.
Sardinia – Halloween has different names. The most common is Animeddas in the south and Su Mortu Mortu in the north. On the evening of October 31st people eat pasta and are careful to leave a portion on the plate for Maria punta boru, an old woman who, if she can’t find enough to eat… pierces your belly with her hook (punta boru) to eat your pasta!
Borgo a Mozzano – One of the most famous Halloween parties in Italy is in Borgo a Mozzano, a small village in the province of Lucca, famous for the mysterious Devil’s Bridge (aka Maddalena’s Bridge).
Legend has it that a beautiful woman from Lucca, Lucida Mansi was courted and admired but she was so cruel that when she got bored with suitors she dropped them into a well.
She was obsessed with her image and sold her soul to the Devil in exchange for another thirty years of beauty. Eventually the devil reclaimed his prize and the festival celebrates when she walks the earth again for one day of the year.
Triora – This village in Liguria, 100 km south-west of Genoa is often called the ‘town of witches.’ In the Middle Ages, Triora witnessed trials in which some 200 local women were accused of witchcraft and crimes like spreading the plague, bringing acid rain, and eating children! Local women dress up as witches, and tourists are welcome to take part in haunted tours.
How Kids in Italy Celebrate Halloween
Halloween in Italy isn’t as widespread as it is in some countries, but it’s growing in popularity here. Some Italian parents aren’t keen to celebrate (they don’t ‘silly’ US cultural traditions taking over Italian culture), while others are happy to festeggiare (celebrate) and let their kids dress up and have an extra evening of fun.
Where we live, in Tuscany, kids dress up (young and old), with older kids wearing scary or gory costumes (think lots of black, fake blood, etc). Little kids usually wear costumes they’d wear for Carnevale in the spring, so you’ll see anything from Super Mario to ninjas, and princesses to cats.
Pumpkin Carving and Decorations
Before the 31st, we decorate the house and carve a couple of pumpkins. There aren’t any celebrations at schools. While you can visit a pumpkin patch in Italy (some are even US-style with tractor rides, food, and more), they’re still not common. We usually get our pumpkins at the grocery store.
Trick-or-treating usually takes place in a town or city center. In our area, you can head to certain streets or neighborhoods in Florence and shop owners will give out little pieces of candy. Or, in our small town, there’s a neighborhood that has a few houses that pass out candy.
Our family usually invites another family or two over and we trick-or-treat around the house, play games, and have a ‘spooky’ Halloween walk in the yard.
Halloween Festivities for Kids
Fun places to visit with your kids during October include:
Sacro Bosco di Bomarzo – The ‘Monster Park’ in Lazio is a perfect place to visit during the Halloween period. Built in the 1500s and visited by Salvador Dalí, the park contains large sculptures of elephants, monsters, and strange creatures. Good To Know: Unfortunately, the park closes at 18:00 in October, so you can’t wander around on Halloween night.
Dress Up and Go to Theme Parks – A fun thing to do with kids here in October is dress up and head to a theme park. Many Italian theme parks (including Leolandia, Mirabilandia, Gardaland, and Il Cavallino Matto) have Halloween-themed celebrations during October. You don’t have to dress up, but our kids love putting on their costumes and seeing the other kids out and about at the parks.
Halloween in Italy Vocabulary
|dolcetto o scherzetto||trick-or-treat|
|fave di morti||Literally ‘broad beans of the dead’! This is a specialty mainly found in Friuli Venezia Giulia in the North of Italy that is made as an offering to the dead. They are a mixture of almonds, sugar and eggs.|