November 1st is a national holiday in Italy known as la Festa di Ognissanti or Tutti i Santi. The date is the day of a Catholic feast and is celebrated as All Saint’s Day in Italy. Though the origins of the holiday are religious, All Saints Day is also a public holiday in Italy meaning that government offices, schools, and many private businesses close.
Halloween is becoming increasingly popular among Italian children who shout dolcetto o scherzetto as they trick or treat. However, All Saints’ Day on November 1st is a much more traditional Italian holiday, which is followed by All Souls’ Day on November 2nd. Many Italians go home to be with family and to pay their respects to dearly departed relatives.
History of All Saints Day in Italy
All Saints’ Day was probably celebrated in Greece or Turkey as early as the 4th century, but the history of the holiday in Italy dates back to the 7th century when the holiday was established by Pope Gregory II. As the name suggestions, it is the day when the Catholic Church pays respects to all the saints. In Italy, it is normal to hear the day referred to as Ognissanti or Tutti i Santi.
All Saints’ Day used to be celebrated in the spring, but it was eventually moved to 1 November (though historical records are spotty as to why this date change happened). The day is meant to honor all Christian Saints, and particularly those saints who do not have their own feast day on the Catholic calendar. (St. Joseph’s Day in March, for example, is when Italians celebrate Father’s Day).
All Saint’s Day is not the same as Giorni dei Morti (Day of the Dead/All Souls’ Day). They are sometimes confused because they occur back-to-back. All Souls’ Day is not a public holiday in Italy but many people take it off considering that November 1st is so this is a way to create a ponte or long weekend.
How Italians Celebrate All Saints’ Day
All Saints’ Day in Italy is traditionally a feast day. It is a day to celebrate saints, as well as anyone who named after a saint. (For example, my son is named Giacomo which is usually thought to be a religious name in Italy because of San Giacomo – St. James). Some Italian families exchange gifts to celebrate this.
All Souls’ Day is usually marked with a mass and prayers to dead ancestors, as well as all of the souls stuck in purgatory. November 2nd is another feast day in Italy, and All Souls’ is the day when it is traditional to eat sweets like fave dei morti. It is traditional to go to Italian cemeteries and to bring chrysanthemums to mark the graves of deceased relatives.
Many businesses will be closed in Italy on 1 November so you should plan your shopping accordingly. Buses and metros will run on a reduced holiday/Sunday schedule on All Saints Day in Italy but they will still be available. Traffic will be lighter because most Italians have the day off work but you might experience slightly more competition for fewer taxis.