Festa dei Morti or All Souls’ Day takes place on November 2nd every year in Italy. Although it’s not a national holiday, many schools and some businesses choose to remain closed on this day.
What exactly is Festa dei Morti? Well, it is a day in which we honor those near and dear to us who have passed on. Many Italians will be heading to the cemetery to pay their respects and say a little extra prayer for their dearly departed. Others will be carrying on some older traditions to commemorate the dead and ensure they rest in peace.
Here are some southern Italian traditions for the Festa dei Morti:
In the Abruzzo region, on the night of November 1st, many families will leave the dinner table set and light candles, lanterns or other light sources for each soul of their loved ones. Interestingly, in ancient times, the people of Abruzzo would carve out a pumpkin and place a candle inside to be used as a lantern, much like the Jack-o-Lantern found in American Halloween tradition.
In Calabria, as well as many parts of Italy, the belief is that the night between November 1st and 2nd, the souls of the deceased can walk the land of the living. This tiring journey from the land of the dead to the living is the reason why the people of Calabria, much like those in Abruzzo, leave a table setting for their loved one’s soul. They are sure to leave a canter of wine, bread and sometimes even a pack of playing cards. In some Albanian communities in Calabria, a table rich with foods is set up over the deceased’s grave.
Also, the night before Festa dei Morti, a sweet known as Dita degli Apostoli or Apostle’s Fingers (recipe in Italian here), is prepared. This creamy-filled sweet is eaten on the day of the dead to help ease the grief caused by those who have passed on.
In Sicily, November 2nd traditions are focused on young children. If the children have been good, they will wake up to find special gifts under their bed that have been brought to them by the dead. These gifts include “i pupi di zuccaro”, which are colorfully painted figures made with sugar. Another famous sugary sweet which is eaten on the Festa dei Morti are “la frutta martorana” made with a colored almond paste and formed into various fruit shapes.
All traditions aside, the Festa dei Morti is an important day to remember those who have come before us and who make up the roots of our identity and our family history.
Sending love and thoughts to all those we have lost and miss dearly!