Italy Magazine best explains why in an article published October 31st, 2011.
“The 1st of November is a national holiday in Italy, known as Tutti i Santi or Ognissanti, which celebrates all saints and is followed by All Souls Day on the 2nd of November, a day devoted to honor loved ones who have passed away.
Il Giorno dei Morti begins at dawn with a somber Mass for the dead, offering prayers and alms for the deceased. After Mass, families visit the graveyard to pay tribute to the faithful who have gone before them. At the cemetery, the graves of family members are decorated with mums and candles.
Yet, the day is not only a solemn affair and the remembrance of the deceased can turn into a celebratory occasion in certain regions, especially in Sicily.
In Sicilian, this ‘day of the dead’ is known as “U juornu re muorti.” Children wake up hoping to find a treat from relatives not yet forgotten. The ‘muorti’ bring presents of toys and sweets. The tradition serves to strengthen family bonds, linking children to family members who have come and gone before them.
Until a few decades ago, this was in fact the only celebration of the year when children received presents, usually sweets and toys. Today there are many other occasions during the year (Christmas, Epifania, Birthdays, etc.) and the tradition risks to loose its strength. But parents continue to warn their children to behave in hopes that “i bonarmuzza re muorticieddi” (the good souls of the dead) might bring them presents. The young ones wake up on the 2nd of November to hunt for presents that had been hidden around the house.
One of the most common treats is Frutta Martorana, sweets made of almond paste that are expertly crafted to look like fruits. The marzipan delicacies are a specialty in Palermo, Sicily, where they are said to have been first made by nuns at the Monastero della Martorana. The nuns prepared the ‘Frutta’ in honor of a visiting archibishop at Easter time. The bishop was so impressed by the convincing display of fruit and vegetables that he declared that a miracle must have occurred to allow such a bountiful harvest so early in spring.”
Today, November 1st, 2012 All Saints Day
I awoke this morning and immediately reached for my cell phone to send a text message to my daughter Amanda at boarding school, reminding her that today is all Saints Day, and to go to the campus Chapel to say a special prayer. I reminded her to place her shoes next to her dorm room door tonight before she went to bed and to think of special times with deceased family members and to have happy thoughts of them as she dozes off to sleep. This custom my Grandmother Felicia and Grandpa Joe kept alive in our family for as long as I can remember. It got me thinking about the good times spent with them at this time of year…
Halloween for My Family was Always a Special Night.
Grandma Felicia & Grandpa Joe resided on Tolman Avenue, overlooking Gloucester’s beautiful Harbor. It was “The Place” to be On October 31st. Our entire family would celebrate at their home with extended family and friends. It was always our last stop of the evening, “The Place” where we all wanted to be. For many of us it may have seemed like it was only for the giant-size candy bars Grandma was known to give, but truthfully it was for her delicious covered pizza, sweet treats, and endless bottles of Twin Light Soda. Back in those days it was simply unheard of to give giant-size candy bars to trick-or-treaters on Halloween. I have said many times before that my Grandmother Felicia was way ahead of her times, in so many different ways. She should be credited as “The Inventor of Super Sizing Food,” after all, she was doing it long before it was fashionable! Her tradition of handing out giant-size candy bars is one example of how modern she was. Although she was known as a beautiful modern woman for her day, she remained old fashioned in her ways of sharing traditions and keeping them alive.
My Grandfather Joe and Grandmother Felicia were known to be great story tellers. I remember especially that on Halloween night Grandpa Joe would have all 7 grandchildren’s undivided attention while telling crazy stories about some deceased family member or how they almost became deceased. Like the time when pirates boarded the Benjamin C, his fishing boat, which is a great story to be told another time but, to sum it up quickly, the pirates took over the boat, then left he and his crew on an island where the Indians came out of nowhere and scalped his hair right off his head–and that’s why he was bald! Needless to say the stories that he told in their downstairs kitchen are forever priceless. Through his repertoire of old stories, some fiction and some not, my cousins and I learned about our heritage and deceased relatives. Through his gift of storytelling he gave each and every one of us an understanding of how important it is to keep deceased loved ones connected with future generations.
We left their home each Halloween night filled with sweets and stories. In the midst of a mass exit from their home Grandma Felicia had a magical way of stopping the chaos to deliver a very important message every year. It became quiet while everyone stood by their back door (the boys dripping in sweat from running around the house and makeup running down my cousin Licia’s and my faces) as she reminded each of us to prepare for All Souls Days on November 2nd, by placing our shoes by the front door the next evening before we went to bed on November 1st All Saints Day. She would remind us not to be afraid of the souls of deceased; that it was a good thing that they visit while you sleep. She recommended we welcome their visit by sharing stories and fond memories of departed loved ones before going to bed on All Saints Day.
I encourage all of you to take some time tonight to reminisce with your children and to keep the memories of deceased ones alive, and to tuck a little something into their shoes placed by your front door. In the morning I guarantee you will see joy in their eyes and a smile across their face when they realize they had a visitor from their someone special while sleeping.
I’ll be missing my Amanda tonight and tomorrow morning but I know she, too, will keep our tradition of Celebrating All Saints Day and All Souls Day, no matter how far away she may live from home.