Do they celebrate Halloween in Sardinia? In short, no. Well, not quite – not the one you’re thinking of anyway.
Halloween is not American, nor is it even Anglo-Saxon, as some Italians believe. Halloween, which is short for “All Hallow’s Eve”, actually originated in Celtic Ireland with the festival of Samhain (pronounced ‘Sauw-en’).
Samhain originally marked the end of the harvest season, and the beginning of winter, or the “darker half” of the year. The modern Samhain festival, also known as Halloween, is observed on November 1st, but with celebrations beginning on the evening of October 31st, as the Celtic day began and ended at sunset.
Samhain was originally a liminal or “threshold” festival, when the boundary between the living world and the spirit world thinned, meaning the Aos Sí (the spirits or fairies) could more easily enter our world.
Su Mortu Mortu
How does Samhain or Halloween fit into Sardinian traditions?
Sardinians don’t really celebrate Halloween. That’s not to say that you won’t see some decorations, or even some trick or treaters depending on where you are however. Sardinians, and Italians in general, tend to see Halloween as an “imported festival” or a novelty.
Sardinia does however have its own ancient festival which is strangely similar to the original idea of Halloween. Su Mortu Mortu, or “The Dead Dead”. Depending on where on the island you find yourself, Sardinians also call it Is Animeddas, Su Prugadoriu or Is Panixeddas.
This festival, now almost forgotten in Sardinia, used to happen around the same time as Halloween. Like Samhain, Su Mortu Mortu was also a liminal festival where spirits of the dead would once more walk the earth.
How did Sardinians celebrate Su Mortu Mortu?
During Su Mortu Mortu, Sardinian families would set a place at the dinner table for spirits of loved ones returning to visit the living world. If the deceased returned home and found nothing to eat, they would later take revenge.
People usually hid knives and forks in Sardinian homes to prevent sas ànimas malas or ‘bad souls’ from injuring or killing someone in an accidental outburst.
On this threshold night, children, with their faces covered with coal, wearing old clothes and carrying something white – to symbolise the wandering of the dead – took it upon themselves to visit houses in order to ask for a small offer “pro sas ànimas”, or ‘for the souls’.
This offering was a donation to the dead in order to shorten their time in Purgatory. People usually gave the children nuts, dried fruits, Sardinian sweets, or coins.
Although the traditions generally changed from town to town, the adults usually gathered around the fire and told stories about the past, and the legends of their area while eating traditional Saba bread.
Pane e Saba
Bread and Saba, or Pane e Saba is a traditional Sardinian dessert, baked mostly during the ‘All Saints Day’ (La Festa di Ognissanti) and ‘All Souls day’ (ll Giorno dei Morti) in the first week of November.
Saba is the result of boiling fresh grapes, producing an almost black, sweet substance. You then mix this with flour and almonds to create an extremely sweet bread. The Saba bread is held as being ‘as dark as the night that hides the dead’. It was also called su pani ‘e s’anima, or ‘the bread of the dead souls’ (to paraphrase a little!).
If you feel like giving it a go, check out the recipe here!
The next time someone tries to tell you that Halloween has never existed in Sardinia – feel free to remind them about Su Mortu Mortu. And tell them to hide their knives and forks from Sas Ànimas Malas…