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Halloween Comes to Italy
An American tradition makes its way into the hearts and homes of Italians
Halloween is not an Italian tradition. But, just as the Disney channel and Coca-Cola before it, Halloween is beginning to infiltrate Italy. When I was in Italy in early October, there ceramic pumpkins and witches in many stores. And my Italian nieces, who range in age from nine to 11, drew picture of pumpkins and spelled Halloween-related words in English class.
There's a fascination with all things American, but particularly with American holidays. Halloween happens to be one of them. My Italian nephew, who is 18, was curious to know if kids really went door to door asking for candy, and if you saw them in the streets on Halloween. When I told him that was true, he was genuinely surprised. He thought Halloween and trick or treating was just something on television or in movies.
Some kids are even planning to get dressed up, and some Italian classes will have small Halloween celebrations replete with candy and desserts (probably Italian ones, such as panetone or zeppole, fried dough with powdered sugar). Thanks to the influx of Germans in Ischia, the island off the coast of Naples where my curious in-laws live, they even know about candied and caramel apples.
Italians already have a bit of experience with Halloween-like traditions. Children of all ages, but especially little ones, dress up in costumes for Carnevale, also known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. The macabre aspect of Halloween is missing from that celebration. But wearing masks and taking on different personas is the norm for Carnevale. Indeed, the children get dressed up and parade up and down the streets, and many towns offer some sort of costume party for the kids. But there is no candy or trick or treating.
Even though Halloween has become a hallmark of American life, its origins can be traced back to Europe. It was Irish and Scottish immigrants who likely brought the celebration to the United States in the nineteenth century. Almost every culture has some sort of feast day or way of honoring the dead. The Italians themselves – most of whom are Catholic – celebrate All Saints Day on Nov. 1 and All Souls Day on Nov. 2. In fact, to replace the pagan version of Halloween, Pope Boniface IV created All Saints Day, according to the Web site “life in italy.”
My nieces are waiting to see the pictures of the annual Halloween party I throw for my little cousins in the United States. And they wouldn't mind if I sent them some chocolate and candy for Halloween. They're not stopping with Halloween. My Italian in-laws are planning to host their own Thanksgiving dinner, replete with turkey and cranberry sauce, in November.
Let's face it - Italians wouldn't be Italians if they weren't looking to turn everyday into a holiday. That's what makes them so darn lovable.
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