Italy’s Spookiest Places and Halloween Traditions
by Darya Boronilo
Many think Halloween is an American tradition that is not celebrated in Italy. Surprisingly, no! And although Italy’s way of marking Halloween is a little different, there is a lot to discover! Watch the devil parade and the performance of fire-eaters, vote for the most beautiful Witch at the unique beauty pageant, and join the pumpkin competitions. Visit the small villages and bond with locals to experience centuries-old Halloween-like traditions. Learn about the mysterious legends and dance at fun festivals with the ghost creatures! In other words, visiting Italy during Halloween is one of the most exciting experiences you can have. Let’s find out where to go!
Hear the Scary Stories
If you want to see one of the biggest Halloween celebrations held in Italy, go straight to Triora (Imperia). This village in Liguria is known as “the town of witches.” In addition, Triora is part of the network “I Borghi Piú Belli d’Italia,“ a list of Italy’s most beautiful medieval villages. And during the celebration, the tastefully decorated village looks as if it’s straight out of a Fairy Tale!
There’s a reason why such a big Halloween celebration occurs right here. The history of the place will make you shiver! In the past, Triora was the site of a series of witch trials held from 1587 to 1589. During those dark days, 200 local women were accused of being responsible for the continuous plagues, acid rain, and livestock killings.
Triora hosts folklore and horror-themed events throughout the year, such as the summer witchcraft festival in August, the mushroom festival in September, and Halloween itself. So, if you find yourself in Italy around 31 October and are looking for a truly unique experience, make your way to Triora! You’ll be glad you did.
The Festival of the Witches
Looking for a truly unique Halloween experience? Then you can head to Corinaldo, where the Festa Delle Streghe (Festival of the Witches) takes place on October 27-31. Enjoy the charming atmosphere of the medieval town that transforms into an open-air Halloween Park. You will see spooky sets and decorations around every corner. Meet witches, skeletons, and monsters, and don’t miss the Miss Strega (Miss Witch) beauty pageant. Spend the rest of the night enjoying great music and dance performances. It’s sure to be a Halloween like no other!
The Parade of Ghosts
Finally, one of Italy’s most exciting Halloween celebrations occurs in Borgo a Mozzano, located in Tuscany. Participate in the event and walk the mysterious streets of the old town center, inspired by spooky stories and mysteries related to the area. Stop to hear the legends about Lucida Mansi, a noblewoman. She exchanged her soul with the devil for 30 years of beauty. Then, don’t miss Lucida and the devil passing through the town. Their annual procession is usually accompanied by demons and fire-eaters. At the end of the procession, witness how Lucida’s soul is dropped from Ponte Della Maddalena (the Devil’s Bridge) into the river below. Then return to the town streets to watch the parade of ghosts and dead creatures (Passaggio Dei Fantasmi). Don’t miss this unique festival, with an excellent mix of traditional elements and modern twists!
Halloween-Like Traditions in Italy
While Halloween now means fun spooky decorations and costumes, the holiday has a long and complex history. Thought to have originated with the Celtic festival of Samhain, celebrated at the end of the harvest season. As the days became shorter and the weather grew colder, the Celts believed that the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead became blurred. They would light bonfires and dress in animal skins to ward off evil spirits. When Christianity spread to Europe, many pagan traditions were incorporated into Christian celebrations.
In Italy, for example, October 31st was traditionally a day to honor the saints. Known as Ognissanti, it is the Italian equivalent of the Day of the Dead in Mexico. These day celebrations include church visits, laying flowers on graves, and eating “pan dei morti.” This typical dessert is made from crumbled biscuits, raisins, and chocolate. In the evening, families light candles for their deceased loved ones. Even nowadays, some villages in Italy still follow the centuries-old traditions related to death. Italians don’t always celebrate them on the same date as Halloween, but those customs have a Halloween-like spirit.
Pumpkins Carved into Skulls
Every year in the small Italian village of Serra San Bruno, the children carve pumpkins into skulls. They then take those around to houses and businesses, asking for payment to protect the property from evil spirits. This tradition, known as “Coccalu di muortu,” dates back hundreds of years and is still strong today. The boys take great pride in their skulls, and the villagers are always happy to support them. On Halloween night, the village comes together to enjoy a feast of traditional foods and drinks. It’s a beautiful night that everyone looks forward to as they strive to keep alive the old traditions. Stop at the village during this period and see its pure, authentic side.
Bonfires at Every Home
In Orsara di Puglia, at the beginning of November, the very ancient feast of “fucacost” (fire side by side) is celebrated: in front of every house, bonfires are lit to light the way home for the dead who, on that night, return home to visit the living. Everyone cooks meat on the embers of these bonfires and eats it together on the streets. On November 1st, the traditional competition of decorated pumpkins takes place on the main square (the pumpkins are called “cocce priatorje” – heads of purgatory). The pumpkin symbolizes this feast because people traditionally associate it with harvest time and fire due to the orange color. This feast reminds locals that their loved ones are always with them, even after passing away.
Sardinian “Return of the Souls”
On the night of January 5th, in many Sardinian villages, an ancient tradition is revived each year. Children go door to door singing traditional songs and asking to give them gifts. The villagers would then provide them with food or coins. The tradition dates back to pagan times when locals believed that the souls of the dead would return to their homes on this night. Today, mainly the older people keep the practice alive, who see it as a way to connect with their heritage. However, there has been more interest in this centuries-old custom in recent years. People of all ages practice it now. If you have a chance, come to Sardinia during those days to experience the event’s unique atmosphere.
Discover the Traditions, Touch the Roots
Although Italy doesn’t celebrate Halloween like other western cultures, it has many places and symbols linked to Halloween. Here, you can see the celebrations from a different angle and touch on the cultural roots of the traditions. A trip to Italy during this period will be particularly interesting for families traveling with children.
Contact us today to plan your tailor-made itinerary through the most authentic places and experiences!
And as winter approaches, check out our post about Italy’s most enjoyable New Year traditions!