Twenty years ago, very few Italians had heard of Halloween; today this festival is widely known and celebrated throughout Italy: we have now become accustomed to the glance offered by restaurants and clubs decorated with ghostly decorations in the weeks preceding October 31st. However, few people know that the origins of this imported American tradition are to be found in the feast of All Saints.

All Saints’ Day is a Christian holiday created to honor the souls of the dead or, in some countries, to specifically honor the souls of saints. This day was established because of the amount of saints who have come and gone throughout history. This ancient holiday has been overshadowed by the holiday we all know and love, Halloween. However, many Halloween traditions were inspired by All Saints’ Day. So what links and unites these two festivals?

How Halloween was born

All Saints’ Day is both a Catholic holiday and a national holiday in Italy, so shops and businesses close while Italians spend the day with family.

To know how Halloween was born, we must take a step back towards the origins of the All Saints’ Day celebration. When Christianity began to spread in Europe, it tried to minimize resistance to its beliefs by incorporating pagan symbols and holidays. For example, St. Patrick’s Day was originally a pagan holiday celebrated by the Irish Druids, but was later annexed to Christian worship.

The concept of Halloween originated with the Celts, who celebrated a holiday known as Samhain, a day when it was believed that the dead could walk among the living. This inspired the Christian Church to create a holiday on the date the Celtic people celebrated Samhain and to add a Christian origin story, claiming that they were actually celebrating the same thing. Christians replaced the Celtic deities with various saints. To put this into perspective, Samhain was first celebrated about 2,000 years ago, while the feast of All Saints began much later, in the 7th century AD.

Over time, a mixture of Celtic traditions and Christianity occurred, to the point that the beliefs of the two cultures were somehow merged, forming the Samhain-All Hallows’ Day hybrid known as Halloween.

The origin of the pumpkin and ‘trick or treat’

However, where do we get the tradition of carving pumpkins, making skeleton memes, and decorating our home? We have to look to the Mesoamerican holiday Día de los Muertos for this. This is an even older holiday than Samhain, born about 3000 years ago, whose existence is evidenced by archaeological discoveries of local burial rituals. These customs were most likely adapted to Halloween when the Spanish colonized Mexico and converted the local population to Christianity, combining the traditions of Día de los Muertos.

As a side note, a great film that explains the traditions of Día de los Muertos and some aspects of Mexican culture is Coco, a 2017 film from Pixar studios. Its story is about a young boy, Miguel, who is accidentally transported to the spirit realm and will remain there forever if he does not return to the mortal realm before dawn with the help of an almost forgotten spirit, Hector. If you’ve seen it, you’ll remember the great music and cultural background that contributed to the greatness of this masterpiece. If you haven’t, then now is a great time to watch it.

Halloween, like many other holidays, has undergone a complex evolution throughout history. However, even if the origins of this holiday involved the bloody colonization of America and the spread of Christianity, we can still appreciate it for what it is and enjoy the smiles of the little ones and the shower of decorations and sweets that cheer up every October 31st our days.

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