Halloween in Sardinia exists since ancient times, although with other names: “is animeddas”, “sas animas”, “is panixeddas”, “su mortu mortu” are just some of the ways to indicate the feast for the commemoration of the dead. The traditions that accompany these rites, at times dark and silent, at times irreverent and playful, are a milestone in our history and originate from pagan and agro-pastoral rites that sink over the centuries. Erroneously, many believe that it is only an Anglo-Saxon import festival while, instead, the cult of souls and the celebration of the dead involve entire communities on the island since ever.
The sweets and traditions of the night of October 31
In the night between October 31st and November 1st and then in the following days, in many small towns of Sardinia the tradition of celebrating the dead with the preparation of typical sweets such as pabassinas, pane ‘e sapa, and ossus de mortu, setting the table with an extra cover for the deceased, or even leaving the cupboards open so that they can take what they prefer, is still alive. With one precaution: no knives, forks or sharp tools should be left on the table because the dead could use them in the wrong way.
How do we celebrate Halloween in Sardinia?
It may seem strange but, beyond the commercial side imported from customs and habits far from local traditions, there are many similarities with the Anglo-Saxon festival, which originated in Ireland and dates back to the Celts. The feast of Samhain coincided with the end of the harvest and the beginning of the winter period.
You may also want to read Easter in Sardinia and the pagan traditions
One cycle opened and another one came to an end: the connection with nature, the alternation of the seasons and the passage from summer light to winter darkness favored the belief that the souls of the dead returned to earth and wandered undisturbed together with the living for just one night. The advent of Christianity incorporated pagan traditions with ecclesiastical rites, establishing that on November 2, after the feast of All Saints, there would be the commemoration of the dead.
“Give me something for the souls”
“Something for the souls,” ask the children going around the village. But also “is animeddas“, “Seus benìus po is animedda” (I came for souls) or “seu mortu mortu (I’m dead) in central Sardinia, or “Petti Cocone” in Orosei, Olzai, and Siniscola. In San Sperate, the village famous for its murals and for the great artistic heritage left by Pinuccio Sciola, we celebrate Is Paisceddasa: the children go around the village obsessively marking the litany “is paisceddasa” and receive in exchange sweets of all kinds, candies or some coins.
In short, words, songs, and litanies change, but the bottom line is always the same: children represent the ambassadors of the deceased and denying an offer means to be careless about the cult of souls. In the previous days, starting from the night of October 31, the “làntias” appear in the houses, lamps that until not long ago were lit with olive oil to show the dead their way.
Sant’Andrìa a Bono and the carved pumpkin
Carved pumpkin is not a fashion imported from England or the U.S.A. either: Bono, a town in the Sassari region, has chosen the cut-like-a-face-carved pumpkin, as the symbol of the Sant’Andrìa festival.
On the evening of October 30th, it is customary to get an oblong pumpkin, empty it, remove the seeds and carve it with the appearance of a human face and then hang it around your neck, illuminate it with a candle and go around the village, making noise with lids and ladles.
The pumpkin has a name that leaves no room for the imagination: in fact, it is called “conch’e mortu” (lit for head of a dead).
A children’s party? Not really. In this case, it is the adults who knock at the doors: they recite a macabre nursery rhyme and receive sweets and gifts. The carousel then ends in a square in the village, that changes every year, where finally locals meet to make a toast and to destroy the pumpkins.
Su Prugadoriu in Seui
Every year in Seui “Su Prugadoriu” goes on stage. It’s the most similar festival to the typical Halloween you’ll find in Sardinia. It’s usually held between October 31st and November 2nd. The difference with all the other dead commemoration is the in this case children ask around sweets and gifts for the Purgatory’s souls.
Su Prugadoriu has become nowadays synonymous with a feast for all: children, kids, and adults. It’s so much felt that it attracts visitors from all over the island. On this occasion, locals open up their “mangasinus”, their private courts where visitors can buy cheese, bread, sweets, and wine, along with the typical craftmanship.
Is Fraccheras in Gadoni
In Gadoni, people burn bundles of asphodels named Is Fraccheras. According to popular belief, it is the flower of the Underworld, as also Homer remembers in the Odyssey since it was eaten in times of famine.
In the night between the 1st and the 2nd of November, the strongest men carry on their shoulders bundles of burning asphodel, two to four meters long, walking through the streets of the village, without letting them go out.
According to tradition, the ashes scattered in the streets have a purifying power. The souls of the dead are symbolically ferried out of the village so as not to return. It is a very suggestive rite, made even more intense by the spectacle of fire and the excitement of the race against time.
Do you know other traditions related to Halloween in Sardinia? If you want to tell us, we are all ears!