Our notion of Halloween in the U.S., children in costumes going door to door for candy, originates in Scotland and Ireland. In fact, when we were in Scotland in mid-October, we found the displays in stores to be very familiar. Bags and bags of candy for sale along with racks of superhero, princess, and scary costumes.
But, in Italy, Halloween is a holiday met with confusion. We were in Puglia (the heel of Italy) in 2010 at the end of October. We were at a restaurant and Karen and I were talking about my nieces and their Halloween costumes.
Just then, the waiter came to our table. My Italian could only be described in the most generous terms as “beginner,” so I was glad he spoke some English. I asked him if they celebrate Halloween in Puglia. He hesitated, so I said “trick or treat? Children come to your house and you give them candy?” He looked even more puzzled and who can blame him? Children in costumes demanding candy? This must’ve sounded crazy.
Anyway, he took our order and I thought nothing more of it. But, at the end of our meal, after we had paid our bill, the waiter put a paper napkin on the table. He explained that the address on the napkin was where a Halloween party was being held and perhaps we would like to go. Apparently, he had spoken to some of his co-workers, probably explaining with great hilarity the bizarre things that the Americans had asked him, and they had told him of a local Halloween party.
“You must wear the costume,” he warned.
Normally, we’d jump right in, but jet lag and too much wine sent us to the hotel and our waiting bed.
But, that didn’t satisfy my curiosity. For the next few days I asked anyone I could about Halloween in Italy. Here’s what I found out.
Halloween is still relatively unknown in Italy, but it is gaining in popularity. Very few children go trick or treating, but some children dress up in costumes. They wear their costumes during the “passeggiata,” the Italian evening stroll where everyone promenades around town before dinner.
Many people I spoke to credited the TV show “The Simpsons” with bringing Halloween to Italy. Every Halloween, The Simpsons features a “Treehouse of Horrors” episode. The Treehouse of Horrors episodes don’t necessarily feature American Halloween traditions, but it seems that enough costume wearing and trick or treating has been displayed in the past quarter century to rub off on the Italians.
Sounds almost crazy enough to be true.