Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!
I know, I should have written this post yesterday, but carving my Tigger O‘Lantern took me some time, and here I am now, already in November and still talking about Halloween, but I can’t avoid it. I get pretty annoyed every time I hear things like “I don’t want to celebrate Halloween, it is another way for the Americans to try and invade us and to dominate the rest of the cultures; we also have our own traditions!” I promise that I hear this every single year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same people clutching a bottle of Coke while they defend their solid principles. The only positive thing in this way of thinking is that, thanks to this frame of mind, some Sardinian ancestral traditions have been reestablished. The problem is that we should value our culture for what it is, not just because we think we are better than the rest of the world, therefore we bring back old festivities to demonstrate that we also have a culture. Where was all that respect for our history when other people’s festivities were less known?
All that said and done, let’s talk about the different ways of celebrating All Saints’ Eve. I want to start saying that I am no expert, I know very little about, but I have always been fascinated by it, and I researched a little the subject. Nonetheless, I would be glad if anyone with more knowledge wanted to add anything to this post. First of all, Halloween is not American, it has been imported in the States by the European immigrants, as plenty of traditions, and there it found its own expression.
Halloween comes from a mix of Celtic pagan and Christian celebrations, and its name is possibly a modification of the original All Hallows’ Eve, the night before All Saints. The longer winter nights were believed to be an easier access to our world for fairies and spirits, and the pagan rites included lighting up candles for the souls and bonfires to keep away the evil spirits, and divination using apples and nuts. The well known “trick or treating” seems to have its origin in the Christian souling, when kids, with their faces painted in black with the coal from the bonfire, used to go door-to-door asking for a piece of souls cake in exchange for the promise of praying for the departed souls close to the contributor.
The tradition of carving pumpkins, as well, comes from the UK and Ireland, where turnips were carved to carry a lantern to scare away the spirits. When this custom arrived to the States, the Americans started using pumpkins instead of turnips because they were the local product, and they were also easier to carve. On Wikipedia I also found the legend of Jack O’Lantern, and I want to share it with you:
On route home after a night’s drinking, Jack encounters the Devil who tricks him into climbing a tree. A quick-thinking Jack etches the sign of the cross into the bark, thus trapping the Devil. Jack strikes a bargain that Satan can never claim his soul. After a life of sin, drink, and mendacity, Jack is refused entry to heaven when he dies. Keeping his promise, the Devil refuses to let Jack into hell and throws a live coal straight from the fires of hell at him. It was a cold night, so Jack places the coal in a hollowed out turnip to stop it from going out, since which time Jack and his lantern have been roaming looking for a place to rest.
(Encyclopedia of Death and Dying (Glennys Howarth, Oliver Leaman), Taylor & Francis, page 320)
All the claims about our traditions being also about the souls, and therefore the fact that we don’t need to adopt other countries festivities don’t take into account, for ignorance or excess of parochialism, or both, the fact that several experts affirm that Sardinian people come from the Celts as well, and that is why we have similar music and dances, sacred places and, of course, festivities. In the centre of the Island, on All Saints’ Even, is celebrated something similar to Halloween, and the name changes according to the town. The two I heard of are Is Animeddas and Su Prugadòriu (literally, “The Little Souls” and “The Purgatory”), and they also are dedicated to the souls. The kids go door-to-door and ask for a donation using our version of the “trick or treat”: some examples are “Seus benius po is animeddas” or “Mi das fait po praxeri is animeddas” (“We are here for the little souls” or “Would you please give me the Little Souls?”) It is common in our language to call the actual donation with the same name of the festivity, so the treat become “the little souls” in November,Sa Zipuledha(“the little doughnut”) for Carnival, and Su Candeberi (“the candle holder”) on New Year’s Eve in Gonnosfanadiga. Apparently, on All Saints’ Eve, Sardinian kids also wear disguises, play tricks and receive sweets; in the past the treats were nuts and chestnuts, winter cakes likesu pani ‘e saba, and fruits.
If you are wondering how I celebrated Halloween here in London, I can tell you that. I carved my Tigger O’Lantern, prepared tiramisù and watched Dark Angel and Midsomer Murder, is that scary enough? I also have some Cadbury Scream Eggs, but I will keep them for now, I still have a lot of fudge to eat!