All Souls' Day (Commemorazione dei defunti) and the Italian tradition

All Souls' Day, painting by Jakub Schikaneder, 1888

November 2
nd is All Souls' Day, a Catholic feast dedicated to the memorial of the dead which, according to tradition, can be dated back to ancient times.

This day, in almost every country, the dead are remembered with different rituals and customs, yet the aim is just one: give some consolation to the souls of the dead. Although the tradition might give just as much, or even more, consolation to the souls of the living, remembering the dead.

The Italian Tradition

In Italy it is a custom to go visit the dead at the cemetery by bringing flowers, mainly the chrysanthemums, which are considered to be the Flowers of the Dead.

The main feature of this feast is that there are different traditions in each Italian region. For example, in Sicily, November 2nd becomes the "Festa dei Morti" (The Feast of the Dead"). A legend says that in ancient times, during the night between November 1st and November 2nd the dead visited their loved ones by bringing gifts to the children. So the night before, the parents put their kids to bed and remind them that if they've been good and have said their prayers, they will receive lots of presents, and the children go to sleep hoping that their dead grandparents or relatives will remember them. Then, the parents prepare the u cannistru (the basket) full of sweets and pastries, and they hide toys in the most hidden places of the house.

There was a similar tradition also in Apulia, in Manfredonia: during the feast's eve the kids hang by their beds some socks called le cavezzette di murte and during the night the dead come by to fill them with sweets.

In Rome, instead, tradition wants that on all Saint's Day, you eat your lunch or dinner by the grave of your dead relative, to keep him/her company.

In some areas of Lombardy, the night between November 1st and 2nd people put in their kitchen a vase full of water so that the dead can quench their thirst. While in Friuli they leave a lamp on, a bucket of water and some bread.

Despite the many differences in the local traditions, the belief is one: the dearly departed will come to visit their relatives on this day. The whole country honors the dead by preparing, cleaning and decorating graves during the whole week prior to the Feast. In certain areas of Italy, some habits stand out more than other, which find their roots in tradition, heritage and the undying love for those who no longer live among us. 

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