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Halloween, All Saints & Remembering the Dead in Abruzzo

by Sam Dunham

Here in Abruzzo Italy, rather than the seemingly ubiquitous Halloween celebrations the magic of is celebrated on the 1st & 2nd November by reflecting on the extended family, past and present – the familial bond which keeps Italy going.


Pumpkins fit for a Piggie not Halloween Jack o’Lanterns

Halloween in rural Northern Abruzzo is seen as a US import, a few lonely pumpkins on supermarket shelves and a welcome dearth of trick-or-treatings, apart from at the ‘L’aneme de la morte’ festa in Serramonacesca in perhaps.  My neighbours grow Jack O’ Lantern style pumpkins as food for the piggies, an autumn gastro treat before they got the traditional chop on the 8th December.  That is not to say that there isn’t all sorts of witchy folklore in Abruzzo as well as things that go bump in the night.   Look out for stories of the marvellous blood-sucking witches that were driven away like Dracula through the use of and a rabbit pelt on the door that the witch would need to count the number of hairs of before she could enter the household. What those stories share is that they don’t depend on a one-night stand/Celtic pagan fest for their notoriety!

La Famiglia

In Abruzzo like the rest of Italy, the real celebrations lay post-Halloween, on the 1st & 2nd November. It’s a time spent celebrating those cherished family members that have passed on and remembering their past efforts and the resultant legacy. This encouraged ‘time out’ remembering the family is something generally a little alien to me, a custom forgotten in my native UK, all being ‘so busy’, all ‘so far away’ from the village or town where our lived  or died, but here in Italy it’s so important that the first day of the ‘memorial’ has become a National Holiday.

Ognissnati & I Morti

The 1st November is All Saints Day (Tutti i Santi Ognissnati, more often you’ll just hear ‘Ognissanti’), celebrating the Saints and Martyrs that made the Catholic Church great.  The 2nd November is ‘All Souls Day’ (I morti), also known as Day of the Dead (il giorno dei morti), when everyone is celebrated even those that are still sitting in purgatory or beyond!  Its the busiest day of the year for florists, who are busy, selling votive candles, single or bouquets of chrysanthemums  and potted plants to the families & individuals who come to clean & polish family tombs  at the cemetery; even our local vegetable van that sells to the village sells them sells candles and flowers on the day!

For non Italians there is the tendency to think that these lovingly tended cemeteries that you drive past with cypress trees pointing the way to  paradise have been there since time begun, however most were created on the instruction of Napoleon as a way of countering diseases that entombed bodies in the centre of towns & villages brought with them.

Beyond the cleaning and lighting of candles, some of the older members of the local community still leave their beloved’s favourite food on the evening of the 1st November ready for All Souls Day.  One elderly lady is as famous for her great gnocchi as the huge bowl she leaves out for her lucky departed husband each year.

Traditional Feast 1st November

The traditional extended family meal eaten on this ‘catch up’ day in this part of rural Abruzzo is:
Gnocchi with Sugo | Roast Chicken | Roast Potatoes with Garlic & Peperoncini
Roast ChestnutsCachi or Pomegranates

Although I’m neither a Catholic nor religious, the idea of taking time out to remember family members is very appealing.  I have to be honest, I have never visited my grandparents at their UK cemetery, wiped down their headstone, laid a flower and let its perfume take me back to lazy hot summers spent being indulged by them.   When in fact did I last take the time to just reflect on how  the past and the preceding generations have shaped me?

In , where we have our house in rural Abruzzo, it seems no matter how far the economy has pushed residents to migrate in the name of work within Europe, they return for this day to share dinner with their families. It may sound hideously saccharine, but home is where the heart is, and that means where the family lies, and it does make an awful lot of people I know here incredibly happy.

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