How Southern Europe Celebrates Halloween
A little spooky and a lot of fun, American-style Halloween and its lively traditions have arrived in France, Italy and Spain.
What kid doesn’t love to dress up in a costume, then go around the neighbourhood asking for candy? Halloween is a top holiday among children – and many adults – in the United States. Depicted in blockbuster movies and TV shows, it has crossed the Atlantic and taken root in the imagination of Southern Europeans.
On 31 October, Americans of all ages re-enact rituals with origins in northwestern Europe. The ancient Celts celebrated their new year on 1 November, and Samhain eve was when the boundary thinned between the worlds of the living and the dead. To protect themselves from spirits that night, people would light bonfires and wear disguises. As Christianity spread throughout Europe, Catholicism co-opted Celtic practices. Thus, Samhain became All Saints Day, and the day before was All Hallows' Eve, eventually shortened to Halloween. When Northern Europeans, especially the Irish, settled in the US, they brought along this tradition.
It’s interesting (and somewhat ironic) that the region responsible for converting pagans centuries ago is today starting to celebrate Samhain rituals, albeit with a fun twist!
Halloween in France
All Saints Day is such an important holiday in France that all schools close for les vacances de la Toussaint the last week of October and the first week of November. On this public holiday, the French honour deceased relatives by visiting their graves and leaving pots of chrysanthemums.
Older generations generally scoff at American-style Halloween, thinking it is too commercial – if they think of it at all. But children and young adults adore the festivities. In response, larger stores in big cities have begun to decorate for Halloween and to stock costumes and mini candies, and some children are dressing up and going door to door on 31 October, asking, “Des bonbons ou un sort” (candies or a spell). Households that are not travelling during the two-week school holiday mostly play along and hand out candies, although some are not prepared and have to scrounge around for treats to give the little witches and vampires!
Halloween in Italy
As a Catholic country, Italy has long celebrated Ognissanti and also the following day, Giorno dei Morti (All Souls Day or Day of the Dead). However, US-style Halloween slowly started to take root about a decade ago, and today 31 October has become a popular holiday among many Italians.
Kids already dress up in cute costumes for Carnivale, but Halloween is the time to put on scary makeup and disguises, then go from door to door and ask, “Dolcetto o scherzetto?” Businesses get into the spirit of things by decorating, hosting fun events and passing out candies. Biscuits in the shape of pumpkins and ghosts are also popular treats.
Halloween isn’t just for kids in Italy. As 1 November is a public holiday, the night before is prime time for adults to dress up in scary costumes and head to parties with plenty of dancing, cocktails and mocktails.
(*) Average meal price calculated on the basis of starter and main course or main course and dessert, excluding drinks, menu and promotional offers. The average price is an estimate only, calculated according to the prices provided by the restaurant. Depending on the country, the average price may or may not include all taxes. ↩