Two religious feasts in November: All Saints and All Souls Day in Italy.
November is inaugurated by two important religious feasts in Italy: All Saints and All Souls day. These days are very important for the Catholic tradition and they find their roots in a distant past.
All Saints day
La festa di Ognissanti, All Saints feast, is a religious event celebrated in Italy on November 1st. It celebrates all the saints of the Catholic calendar.
The origins of this feast date back to ancient times. In fact, since the very beginning of Christianity, feasts were celebrated in honor of saints and writings witness this celebration reached Rome in May 13th 609 A.C, when Pope Boniface IV dedicated the Pantheon of Rome to the Virgin Mary and to all martyrs.
In the course of time, the feast was postponed to the date of November 1st, but the reasons remain still unknown; however, it is said that the counselor of Charlemagne, whose name was Alcuin, decided to celebrate this feast in November, so that it could last three days and the Church could Christianize the pagan feast of the Celtic New Year, also celebrated in November.
Whether a legend or not, it was decided this feast had to take place in November, and on June 1st 1949, the Italian Constitution listed the day of Ognissanti as a public holiday.
All souls day
This feast can be considered a direct consequence of the celebration of all Saints day. In fact, the direct link between the two events was found in 998 A.C when the abbot Odilone of Cluny established this ritual should have taken place together with that of all Saints, as it was believed dead people could come in contact with the living.
However, it is not by chance this date was chosen to celebrate the event. In fact, ancient civilizations celebrated the dead in a period that went from October to November. Moreover, this date is strictly connected to the day of the Deluge recounted in the Genesis: the date was also chosen in honor of those who died in the flood, as well as to exorcize the fear for new similar catastrophic events.
Rituals and popular beliefs
All Souls day has a common denominator in many parts of Italy: people think the departed will come to visit them. Even if it is a religious event, popular traditions remain still alive and combine the pagan aspect with the religious factor.
For this reason, some of the rituals taking place in the country have a distinctively pagan allure to them:
- Lombardia: in some parts of this Northern region, people put a bottle of fresh water in the kitchen so that dead people can quench their thirst;
- in Friuli, some people used to leave a lamp, a bucket of water and a little bread for the souls;
- in Veneto, people use to offer some biscuits, the "ossi da morti" (the bones of the dead), to their lovers;
- in Trentino, bells ring to call the dead; the table is left set and the fireplace lit during the whole night;
- in Piemonte and in Val d'Aosta the ritual of leaving the table set is quite widespread.
- in Liguria people use to cook broad beans and chestnuts, and in the past grandparents used to tell scary stories;
- in Umbria people use to cook cakes, Stinchetti dei Morti (the dead's shins), in order to ease the sadness of this day.
- in Abruzzo, lamps are left lit and the tables set. Moreover, kids go to bed with a bag of broad beans and candies to symbolize the link between the past and present generations;
- in ancient times people used to eat lunch next to the grave of their relatives in order to keep them company.
- in Sicily people let kids believe that if they pray and they are good kids they will receive gifts from the dead.
Whether this legends are true or not, this day represents an important feast honoring the dead and keeping their beloved memory alive.