I morticini Halloween in Sicily

Morti 1
The almost beautiful cemetery, decorated with flowers and light globes for All souls day.
©Rochelle Del Borrello 2013

According to the Roman Catholic traditions in Sicily the first two days of November are known as ‘All Saints day’ and ‘All Souls day’ (respectively dedicated to  the churches’ canonized Saints and the deceased).

As with most traditions they have become colourfully interpreted by popular culture and anticipated by the thirty first of October, good old fashioned Halloween in the States.

Here in Sicily on the night of ‘I morti’ the dearly departed benevolently pass by to leave gifts to children. It seems quite macabre but yes grandpa Joe or great aunt Milly bring small gifts like candy and toys. At first the whole idea freaked me out but looking at it in the context of this holiday here in Italy it is none other than a method to teach children not to fear death and recall their family heritage.

In the days leading up to Halloween people here are busily visiting their local cemeteries completing a personal family journey visiting all of their dearly departed, cleaning graves, bringing fresh flowers, paying for cemetery plots, lighting up decorative light globes around each grave and generally remembering their dead.

Italian cemeteries become almost beautiful, lit up by endless lights, lit by all the people who want to remember their ancestors.

So why wouldn’t great grandmama be pleased with little Jimmy who brought her flowers? She returns the kindness bringing him new coloured pencils for school.

Jimmy is happy the Morticini (literally a diminutive of ‘the dead’) visited him.

Unknown dead
An anonymous Morticino. She looks friendly enough.
©Rochelle Del Borrello 2013


12 thoughts on “I morticini Halloween in Sicily

  1. This is interesting that they still give presents to the kids over there. I didn’t know that! Around Palermo they tell me people used to do that too, but it has completely died out now. Apparently the gifts were always sweet things to eat, dried fruit, martorana of course and other cakes and candies. They also have a type of cake that is specifically for lovers to give to each other – the girl gives the man the chocolate coated ones and he gives her a white version of the same cake.
    They do still also go and light up the cemeteries though, even if they don’t have a picnic!
    BTW around here they have All Saints on Nov 1st and All Souls on Nov 2nd – i.e. a day later than we do it in England.


    1. The presents are usually candy orientated, but sometimes I see children getting substantial things like winter boots, things for school, my sister in law bought her child a computer game!! I refuse to buy anything for my son as it’s too creepy. Besides he has a birthday this month and then next month there is Christmas!


      1. My son’s is at the end of this month … even closer still to Christmas!! It’s an expensive time of the year for me! This year I’ve decided to bake rather than buying presents! My son’s getting one present only and a Birthday party,at this early stage he thinks Christmas is an extension of his Birthday too! Phew!


      2. We’ve found parties get costly and we’ve decided on an outing to the zoo instead this year.
        Good that you can bake gifts. Yum! I often like specially made presents more than bought ones.
        I make things too – I love sewing and I am also OBSESSED with making jewellery. It’s changed from being a hobby to being an obsesive compulsive disorder. I think I might need a ten step programme!!!


      3. Good idea! I’m trawling the internet for delicious Christmas recipes! That’s very clever of you, I couldn’t thread a needle to save my life (I bet your Sicilian in laws love that about you!) I love hand made jewellery but I’d never have the dexterity to create anything of my own. I love how there is so much jewellery at Sicilian markets, love the stuff made from lava stone and red coral! Don’t take a ten step programme set up a stall at the local markets or i mercatini di Natale and sell it all on Etsy!!
        Did you get my last email?


Comments are closed