The true story of Halloween in Europe. How it is celebrated in Spain, Portugal, and Italy

Pumpkins, ghosts, and monsters. Much has been written about the true story of Halloween in Europe, but are we sure it’s all correct?

Halloween is a celebration that takes place all around the world in the same way, with spooky decorations and scary costumes. We all, as children, have gone trick-or-treating dressed as monsters, and we’ve all watched horror movie classics on the night of the witches. But it hasn’t always been this way.

Some claim that the true story of Halloween in Europe should be traced back to a Celtic celebration where people, through the use of demon-like masks, aimed to scare away evil spirits from the afterlife.

But this particular story seems to be somewhat different from reality.

In fact, the true story of Halloween in Europe seems to be very similar to All Saints’ Day in Italy, Día de Todos los Santos in Spain, and Dia de Todos os Santos in Portugal.

So, let’s delve into the true story of Halloween in Europe, how it spread, and what its real origins are.

Samhain. What is it? And why is it important for a true story of Halloween in Europe?

Let’s dispel a legend right away about the true story of Halloween in Europe and the world.

Some argue that the true story of Halloween in Europe and the particular presence of monsters and ghosts derive from the Celtic festival of Samhain.

Historians have not yet determined how much the modern Halloween festival was influenced by the Celtic festival of Samhain!

But what is Samhain? Easy. Samhain is a month.
Not just any month: it’s the beginning of the cold months!

The Celtic calendar was profoundly different from ours. First of all, it didn’t have four seasons but two: a warm one starting on May 1 and a cold one starting on November 1 (they practically knew there are no in-between seasons).

A grand celebration took place on the night of Samhain, which was the first day of the month (for the Celts, the new day began at sunset, so the evening of October 31st was already November 1st for them), and this is where our celebration begins.
Similar to the Eleusinian Mysteries celebrated during the last two weeks of September, which revolved around the life cycle of crops through the myth of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, her daughter Persephone, and Hades, the god of the underworld, the festival of Samhain aimed to celebrate the good harvest of the warm season and the hope for a bountiful harvest in the future.

It was a ritual not to ward off evil forces but to wish for abundant harvests each time. A complete reversal of the true story of Halloween in Europe, guaranteeing the absence of evil entities.

So what about all the legends of malevolent spirits?

We’re getting there. In reality, there is a connection with the realm of the dead, but it’s not exclusive to the Celts.

Many cultures have occasions when the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead becomes thin.
The Celts had Samhain, the Romans had the Parentalia, a nine-day festival from February 13 to 21 when the dead could freely roam among the living. Similar legends are found in the folklore of Estonia. In other words, George Romero didn’t invent anything with Night of the Living Dead; he just added that horror touch.

During these festivals, there was nothing to fear. What Samhain celebrated was the reunion of the living world with the world of the dead. Spirits returned to life to rejoice in how the family was growing and prospering. It had nothing to do with the legend of malevolent spirits coming to Earth.

Samhain, Halloween, or All Saints’ Day?

Over time, with the rise of the Church as a universal power, the Samhain festival was effectively incorporated into All Saints’ Day and the Commemoration of the Deceased on November 1st and 2nd. Essentially, the same day as Samhain, decided by Pope Gregory III, after Pope Boniface IV, a century earlier, replaced the Roman Lemuria (a festival of the dead celebrated on May 13) with All Saints’ Day.

Combining two festivals into one meant integrating the Irish, Scottish, and French faithful who cherished the Samhain festival with the Catholic worshipers celebrating All Saints’ Day. Many abbey chronicles tell of gatherings of the faithful during these celebrations, organizing bonfires to guide the souls of the deceased returning from purgatory or setting up grand feasts to celebrate together.

A revival of Samhain, but one that blends seamlessly with the Catholic belief in life after death, defining Halloween as a fully-fledged Catholic holiday.

The true story of Halloween in Europe, especially in Catholic regions, cannot help but recognize strong similarities between the Celtic festival and the current Day of the Dead celebrations. Although Halloween is now known for its macabre masks, it may surprise you to know that it has evolved from Samhain to All Saints’ Day in Italy, Día de Todos los Santos in Spain, and Dia de Todos os Santos in Portugal, all areas with a strong Catholic presence. The occult and demonic origins of the festival, needless to say, can be traced back to Protestant and Puritan areas, where the Roman Catholic Church had lost its influence.

Protestants viewed anything of a Catholic nature with suspicion.

They did not believe in purgatory and did not appreciate prayers to the saints. It is in the strongest Catholic areas that we find the origin of the true story of Halloween in Europe, with Irish and Scottish immigrants exporting the festival en masse, which is now called Halloween and has strong connections with Carnival. But there are still places where the cult of Saints and the Deceased is strong, contributing to celebrating the true story of Halloween in Europe as a festival dedicated to remembering loved ones.

All Saints’ Day in Italy. If this isn’t true Halloween

In Italy, Halloween is a relatively recent and increasingly popular holiday, especially among the young. The tradition of celebrating Halloween does not have deep historical roots as in other nations, but it has been influenced by the United States. The holiday is typically celebrated with masquerade parties, sweets, and spooky decorations.

BUT, there’s always a “but,” many Italians associate Halloween with All Saints’ Day. In many parts of Italy, the celebration of November 1st and the Day of the Deceased on November 2nd is very strong. Similar to Samhain, the concern was for the souls of loved ones returning to Earth. Even today, in Italy, All Saints’ Day and the Day of the Deceased are much more deeply felt moments of celebration compared to the canonical Halloween, which feels too foreign. It is a tradition during these days of celebrating the deceased to visit cemeteries to be with one’s loved ones, but it is also a time of joy and celebration, echoing the original meaning of Samhain. In some regions of Italy, there are also traditional processions and festivals to celebrate All Saints. For example, in Sicily, the city of Palermo hosts a festival where the streets come alive with parades, music, colorful decorations, and lots of sweets. It’s a time when families come together to honor their Ancestors, but it’s also a celebration of life.

In Italy, a profoundly Catholic country, the cult of death goes beyond any macabre representation.

Among the evidence of the fundamental importance of November 2nd for Italian culture is the famous poem by Totò: A Livella. An extraordinary work that helps us understand how deeply this tradition is felt in Italy.

Dia de Todos los Santos in Spain and Dia de Todos os Santos in Portugal

In Spain and Portugal, too, Halloween has become increasingly popular in recent decades, thanks to the cultural influence of the United States. October 31st is typically celebrated with costume parties, sweets, and spooky decorations, just as it is in the English-speaking world. Spanish and Portuguese children join in the fun by going door-to-door for the classic “trick or treat.”

Just like in Italy, the tradition of Halloween has no roots in the Iberian Peninsula’s Catholic tradition, but November 1st, an extremely important day in Spain and Portugal dedicated to the Saints, is highly significant.

In Spain, especially, it seems to be a very cherished holiday, making it unique due to the influence of Latin American immigrants. It appears that Latin American immigrants brought their tradition of Día de los Muertos, an ancient celebration in Latin American cultures that commemorates the deceased with dances, songs, and the construction of floats adorned with flowers and sacred images.

This was just a brief story of how some traditions that may seem distant to us are, in reality, closer than we think. But keep following us because soon there will be many updates with the FIRST DATE OF THE SEA AND YOU FESTIVAL, the first festival that brings together popular music from Spain, Portugal, and Naples.

Click here if you want to learn more.

By Davide Lancia