The Day of the Dead

Updated on Nov 01, 2016 by Kathryn Burrington

Blog > The Day of the Dead

In recent years, Halloween has become a popular event across Italy, but does this mean that the dead will rise from their graves a day too early?

The rise in popularity of Halloween has reached Sicily too, of course, mainly in the form of costume parties held for the young. Traditionally, however, the dead didn’t rise from their graves until the following evening. And, rather than something to be scared of, children look forward to it, staying safely tucked-up in bed, knowing that if they have been good, a nice surprise would be waiting for them the following morning.

Remembering loved ones on the Day of the Dead

The 1st November is a national holiday in Sicily, in celebration of All Saints’ Day, (Tutti Santi or Ognissanti). All Souls’ Day (or Day of the Dead) follows the next day, commemorating all the dead, not just the Saints.

above image credit: Shutterstock | Phototribe

On the eve of All Souls’ Day, the dead rise from their graves and deliver toys and sweets for the children of their descendants, hiding them around the house. In the morning children wake-up early, eager to find all the goodies left by their ancestors, creating a bond amongst relatives past and present. One of the most common treats are Frutta Martorana, sweets made of almond paste, moulded and coloured to look like fruit. They are particularly a specialty in Palermo.

Traditionally, the whole family would then take a picnic to the ancestors’ graveyard to spend time with their loved ones, both living and deceased. Candles are lit to decorate the graves and, especially in Sicily, it is not so much a sombre affair but more of a celebration. Before leaving, plenty of martorana and a glass of wine would be placed by each relative’s tomb.

So where does Halloween fit in?

The word Halloween stems from the word hallow, meaning holy, and is held on the eve of All Saints’ Day, or All Hallows’ Day, as it was known in Saxon England. All Hallows' Eve became Halloween. Sadly, as Halloween takes over, the Sicilian traditions associated with the Day of the Dead are declining, and the sweet treats from the deceased often now arrive a day early!


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