Not such a Cliche in Italy
Here in Italy, Halloween has been making amazing progress over the past 8 years. And according to research, Italian searches for 'Halloween' are more concentrated, and much higher than those of 'Carnevale'.
Carnevale is still superior, but tendencies are looking undoubtedly more and more in favor to Halloween. This is throwing some controversy into the laps of religious authorities in Southern Italy. Halloween is starting to develop a superior influence over Italy's 'Day for the Dead' on November 2nd. A large majority of Italians would like to see Halloween become a national holiday in Italy, but still many disagree with its meaning and roots. In 2006, they are expected to spend 250 million Euro's on Halloween parties and accessories, 20% more than in 2005.
It seems to be a holiday that was invented in America, but has far deeper roots. America discovered it by European immigrants and created a magical fairy-tale reality out of it. But Halloween was originally born in Europe. In the 19th century, immigrants from Ireland and Scotland brought their customs with them from their homelands, and kept them alive after years pasted in America..
In Honor of the Dead
It was common in Europe to have a day in celebration to honor the dead. The Romans celebrated the "Feralia" in their honors to the dead. This took place also in February at the end of the Roman year.
"All Saints Day"
was invented by Pope Boniface IV to replace the pagan holiday with one of Catholic roots, all in respects for the deceased. This seems to be the 'Italian' Halloween.
Back some 6 years ago, I remember downtown Rome in October. It showed its sparse signs of Halloween. Shops here and there sold Halloween candles and decorations. As time passed, stores started catering to the Halloween Holiday - featuring rows of costumes, make-up and tons of decorations. For Italians it's really not the meaning behind Halloween that means something, it's just an excuse to have another 'Festa.' If there isn't a day in Italy without some kind of festival, holiday or reserved day for something original the Italians wouldn't be Italian.
The Celtic peoples were very in touch with the spirit realm. They knew ways to gain access to it, and deeply respected it. Halloween is derived from a ritual that was practiced by those throughout Celtic territories.
One of their rituals was known as "Samhain" (sow-en) and it was celebrated from October 31st until the 1st of November lasting three days. People engaged in crazy things - men dressed as women and women like men. Peoples horses were moved to different fields, and children would knock on people's doors for food and treats. Samhain was the most important of all four fire festivals because it may have marked the Celtic New Year.
During the Samhain rituals, fires would be left to burn the entire winter, and sacrifices were performed on animals and humans. Offerings were given to their gods as gifts. Although human sacrificing had ending in the 1600's, we are left with the term BONFIRE. It was originally called BONEFIRE due to this fact of sacrificing and was a central part of Samhain. This was a special time for the Celts, a beginning of transition. Families united for a season of endless nights, intense activities in the house, and numerous stories were told. This was a magical time for them.
Behind this apparent lunacy, lay a deeper meaning. The Druids knew that these three days had a special quality about them. The curtain between this world and the world of ancestors no longer living was drawn aside, and for those who prepared, journeys could be made in safety to the 'other side'. They were concerned with making contact with the spirits of the deceased looking for guidance and inspiration. The dead are honored, not as dead, but as living spirits of loved ones who held deep-wisdoms from their tribe.
Beliefs were that supernatural forces were alive and active, and entities were free to wander where they pleased. The living could communicate with the dead while the dead returned to earth to communicate with them. As time passed these spirits had become wild and diabolically described, with wicked intentions. In Ireland, tombstones began being placed over the dead for protection of the burial, and so the dead could find their road.
Autumn is a period of reflection for many cultures, magical entities were visible and there was a mix between the dead and the living. The connection to this time was strong.
There was fear of these wandering spirits, as they wandered taunting humans - they believed they would lure them into their enchanted worlds where they'd be trapped forever. Villagers would frantically try and entertain these spirits, in hopes to appease them enough with treats such as; food, drinks or fruits.
By use of masks on their faces and grotesque costumes, they thought they could scare them away. They would gallivant around in packs like masquerading replicas of demons, hoping to go unnoticed by the spirits closing in.
Many symbols were left associated with the "Samhain." All Saints Day was celebrated in the beginning of Autumn. And consequently the ties were knotted between the Christians and the Celtics by this celebration infested by spirits.
This ritual had continued to survive throughout the centuries, and eventually was celebrated souly on October 31st - with the coming of Christianity. The church was unable to stop the people from celebrating this holiday so they blessed it and changed the name. Thus, it remains always Pagan.
It became known as " The Eve of All Hollows" or the "Night of the Holy."
Italians today still recite the fact that Halloween does not have any strong meaning for them. They don't yet take it seriously, could be for reasons of their Catholic beliefs. Slowly though, as masked parties are being held in Italy, and great fun is being had, the holiday continues to grow and become a bigger part of the Italian culture.
Bobbing For Apples
Apple bobbing was around too. Masked party-goers would duck their heads into a barrel of water in hopes of grasping a bobbing apple with their teeth. This was entertainment for the Celts, and the first person to come up with an apple in their teeth would be said to be the first to marry in the coming year, and blessed with an ability to grasp good fortune.
They were used for protection. It's the night that glistens with Jack-o-lanterns, the night of "Trick or Treat, "of disguises. They may have come from Ireland or Scotland, however during Samhain, night travelers used lanterns marked with monstrous expressions to frighten off the spirits or entities. Lanterns were also placed on windows and doorways in hopes of protection over their house. Not many Italian children take part in the joy of pumpkin carving. Hopefully they will learn to enjoy it like many have for so long. If all pagan holidays were taken away for fear of the Catholic religion, we wouldn't have any holidays left to enjoy! The Festival of Light For Halloween - it was the Symbol of the Damned Soul - The Irish used to carve out beets and turnips. And after they immigrated to America, they found them scarce, so - they continued their tradition using pumpkins. These vegetables represented the souls of dead people. Faces were carved out to resemble demons, light up with frightening faces that were believed to scare away evil spirits. If an evil spirit saw himself, he may scurry away in terror! Thus these pumpkins, or Jack-o-Lanterns were used for protection.
Symbols of Halloween
Nocturnal animals were said to be capable of communicating with the dead; bats, cats, owls and others. Modern fiction added monsters to the Americanized holiday werewolves, mummies, and vampires.
The Mask Tradition & Trick Or Treat
Not many Italian children in Italy are familiar with the Trick or Treat tradition. They still do not go door to door with pillowcases stuffed with candies, chocolates and various treats ranging in different shapes and colors. Evidence has said that on October 31st, children in Dublin have been spotted in small groups adorned in bizarre garments with faces painted or masked. They knocked on doors and shouted "we are the Hallow-E'en party" you got any fruits or food? The people would wander from house to house singing seasonal songs, a time to get into the mood of the season. A good chance that, this was the beginnings of what we know as 'Christmas Caroling.' In the 19th century New York little children called 'ragamuffins' would dress in costumes and beg for pennies on Thanksgiving Day. Finally in 1939, the term 'Trick or Treat' appeared in print. By mid-20th century pranks lessened and Halloween calmed to house parties and mingling of young trick or treaters.
"Souling" was a particular European custom that could have some connection to the Trick or Treating. Beggars of soul cakes would wander in hopes of collecting many of them. The more cakes they could collect, the more prayers were said for their relatives that passed away. Mischief Night was a night of making pranks in England. Many of these practices were brought to America by immigrants and developed into our known "Trick or Treat." For some time, teens in American have instinctively expanded their seasonal celebrations in which they perform various acts of harmless pranks on neighbors.
Witches & Halloween
This is holiday time for witches too. During this time they get together with their friends and spend time with their children. When midnight arrives they take part in their personal ritual practices like; reading the future in mirrors, in cards and the circle of the Sabbath.
Black cats are one of the main symbols of Halloween. Witches were believed to be able to turn themselves into black cats back then. Witchcraft is the dominant theme of this holiday for witches. Green-faced witches were discovered with the "Wizard of Oz" in the late 30's.
Halloween has taken to Italy in a positive fashion by many, but there is still much uncertainty that remains. Slowly, and over the next coming years - Halloween will be accepted and practiced also by Italians.