Let's talk about the origins of Halloween and all Italian traditions related to the feast of All Saints. Finally, let's give some tips for Halloween sessions based on our local folklore!

When we approach Halloween the only things we think about are treats, monsters, fancy dress parties. But what does this party really mean?

In the background a song resounds:

This is Halloween!
This is Halloween!
Every pumpkin will shout it!
This is Halloween!
Scary Halloween!

The Nightmare Before Christmas - Tim Burton
Mundus Cereris

A little bit of ancient history

Looking at the past history of humanity this holiday has always been present in almost all cultures.

At the time of Ancient Rome, this recurrence could be found in two different holidays that had a very similar character. The first was i Paternalia, in which it was believed that the souls of the dead could wander among the living. In particular, the ancestors of the families came back, with whom it was possible to interact.

The second was a holiday that took place on three different days and was called "Mundus Cereris“, In honor of the goddess Ceres, a feast aimed at purifying the world and“ opening the world itself to the other world ”. The three dates of the festival were fundamental because, if there had not been an "opening" to the world below, the world could not have been purified. The dates of this holiday were our 24th August, 5th October and 8th November.

I know you are already thinking about how to put these holidays into a session Lex Arcana. But let's go on!

But it was certainly not only the ancient Romans who celebrated. This tradition was also present in Erin (Ireland) and Scotland. It was celebrated precisely Samhain and represented the Celtic New Year. It is also mentioned in the Invasions book, in this sense. Now, with the arrival of the Neopagan and Wiccan culture, this holiday is once again an excellent time to celebrate the allegory of the death of the god and the goddess who, saddened, mourns his disappearance. In those days, however, the snuff to make skulls, not pumpkins!

"Halloween" in the Middle Ages

At the expense of what one might think, during the Middle Ages, in our country, it was always celebrated the night before All Saints. I speak with full knowledge, know it!

Tuscan traditions

In Tuscany, Florence, Siena and other valleys in the region the "Feast of the Dry Death" (a nice discussion Thu!). during which the children carved skull-shaped pumpkins and carried them around the city to exorcise the fear of death and beheadings. They used to sing the following nursery rhyme:

"Death Rimbombona, has committed the Crown".

Or, these pumpkins were placed on the walls of the houses, sometimes even covered with clothes and rags to simulate an underlying body.

The Calabrian traditions

Similarly in other regions of Italy other children celebrated. I am only writing a few examples.

In Calabria the boys celebrate the "Coccalu di Muortu" going house to house to ask the inhabitants if they "pay the dead". These children were offered money or almond paste sweets called “dead bones”, due to their shape and pale color.

Outside the houses, then, it was customary to put a placemat with either a glass of wine, in which the dead could wet their fingers, or a glass of water filled to the brim, from which the dead could drink. More than anything else, it was a way to greet the deceased family members, who had returned to visit the living.

The Venetian and Friulian traditions

In Friuli Venezia Giulia and Veneto it was customary to carve them "Suche Baruche" or "Suche of the Dead", skull-shaped pumpkins, with a candle lit inside to show the way to the spirits of the visiting dead.

In fact, in these areas there was a widespread belief that the dead could ensnare children, who were considered bridges between the living and the dead, as not yet trained adults.

Traditions from other regions

In a less striking way, but also in Piedmont and Valle d'Aosta there were traditions linked to the return of the dead. For All Saints, in fact, he broke up an extra place at your table, so as to give just hospitality to the dead of the family, who would return to visit. In Sardinia, however, after dinner he did not clear himself, leaving the table set for the spirits of the visiting dead.

It is unlikely that these Italian traditions are at the origin of Halloween itself, like some of our newspapers headline, but are still found Articles o evidence interesting based on historical and anthropological research.

But there are many, besides these and indeed, if you are aware of them, we invite you to share them with us!

Halloween lands in America

Halloween lands in America

It was only following the great famine happened in Ireland and the consequent exodus in which, between 1845 and 1849, millions of Irish emigrated, that this holiday also moved to America, despite the Puritan character of the nation. It was as a result of this strong immigration that, over time, this celebration became, in the United States, a national holiday which was subsequently exported all over the world through television, comics, films and whoever has more than enough!

But who is Jack-o'-Lantern and why is he related to Halloween?

A pumpkin, menacing and cheerful, has always accompanied the common collective imagination of this festival. But who is Jack that is always talked about?

As always the stories related to this character are manifold, but one is the one that I found more and more fun. It's about the story of a drunkard blacksmith who twice managed to deceive the devil at his own game, nevertheless receiving the same coin upon his death. In fact, after a dissolute life, the blacksmith was not admitted to the Kingdom of Heaven and the Devil, as a punishment, did not even accept him in Hell.

Because of this rejection, he now wanders the world with his candle in anticipation of the Day of Judgment. The candle, a gift from the Devil himself, was placed inside a turnip, but this too changed with the arrival on American soil, given the scarcity of turnips and the abundance of pumpkins.

Trick or treat Halloween

And the trick or treat?

Here we descend into a complex situation of interpretation. What is now being said, "trick or treat" is a softening of what Jack-o'-Lantern really was asking of those he knocked on the door. The "truth" is that the request was about a "Sacrifice or curse", much more fearful and dismal than today's request.

In fact, usually the sacrifice involved accompanying Jack by placing a pumpkin on the window of his house to ward off, above all, the curse of an illness inside the house and family.

Jack - O - Lantern, Jack - O - Lantern
You are such a funny sight.
As you sit there by the window
Looking out into the night.
You were once a sturdy pumpkin
Growing on a curly vine.
Now you are Jack - O - Lantern
See your night lights shine.

Halloween & Helloween

Halloween and popular culture

This holiday is not just a party, but a real business. Leaving aside the thousands of dollars that are spent each year on clothes in the United States, this holiday has made a flower of films bloom that have depopulated over time.

Da Halloween, film Carpenter and his ruthless killer Michael Meyers, a hocus pocus, Disney classic, or for ever Nightmare Before Christmas, which I remember must be seen at least twice a year: once on All Saints' Eve and one before Christmas.

Not only the films, however, have found fertile ground with this holiday, but also music, especially metal. A clear example are the Power Metal band from Helloween, who in most of their covers used Jack as the main character, just like for Iron Maiden their fetish was Eddie.

Halloween in an image taken from MtG

Conclusions (and ideas for Halloween sessions!)

Although this festival, rich in folklore, has now taken hold all over the world, a question arises: but with all our festivals, and the richness of our regional culture, we really needed to conform to an American tradition, also imported, when we already had so many of our own?

It could be interesting rediscover our old "Halloween" traditions. Also because, in the end, these teach us that exorcising death is a constant of human nature, and underneath we have always been led to create a somewhat macabre imaginary. And to empty pumpkins or turnips to put candles in.

Ideas for Halloween sessions: Monster of the week e D&D

For us players and role players, then, these traditions are a real treasure to build original and interesting sessions. If you are planning a Halloween session and are tired of entering the Jack O'Lantern gods Bestiaries di Pathfinder (we will also find it in Pathfinder II Edition?), the old Italian (or Roman) traditions can always give excellent ideas!

For example, if you want to throw yourself into a quick play of Monster of the week, your group of supernatural investigators may have to do with the spirit of a deceased (or more deceased!) who got lost because the local population did not put the pumpkins / turnips out of their homes, after pressure from the country priest.

Or, in a more traditional D&D, we may have a child who disappeared during the night of All Saints / Samhain, kidnapped by the spirits of the dead. In the village of adventurers, therefore, strange supernatural phenomena will begin to occur and more and more aggressive ghosts will appear. These ghosts are determined to take revenge on the child's parents, who did not commemorate All Saints' Day, forgetting about them. Our heroes will have to find and free the child, to stop all this!