An American in Bologna for Halloween

Halloween in Bologna!

If you’re in Bologna around this time of year, among the pumpkin and ghost themed cookies and decorations in the window of your favorite forno or pasticceria, if you look closely, you will find a small, round cookie that resembles a sugar cookie. This is the traditional biscotto, or cookie called il fave dei morti that you will only find during the weeks leading up to November 1. These soft, sweet cookies are similar to a sugar cookie, but made with almonds, which make them a bit sweeter.

An American in Bologna for Halloween

An American in Bologna for Halloween
Different rituals but everywhere food is protagonist

Around the world, food was a large part of the traditions related to what we refer to as Halloween, from the harvest festivals to mark the change in seasons, to the offerings of food and wine to appease departed spirits, to the distribution of cakes to the poor in exchange for prayers for departed souls, and the carving of pumpkins into lanterns -jack o’ lanterns- to either ward off evil spirits or welcome returning spirits.

Cakes and cookies were often baked to offer to the spirits of the deceased nourishment on their way to the afterlife. This appears to be the origin of the fave dei morti. The name, literally “beans of the dead”, calls back to the shape of the fava bean, and the tradition of eating fava or broad beans in remembrance of the dead.   Over time, the bean was replaced with the cookie, and is consumed during the weeks leading up to All Saints Day and All Souls Day.

An American in Bologna for Halloween

Tips for who travels in Italy around Halloween

In Italy, although Halloween related festivities are increasingly celebrated, the real holidays are All Saints Day (La Festa di Ognissanti) on November 1 and All Souls Day (Il Giorno dei Morti) on November 2. On November 1, families might attend mass or share large meals; November 2 is the day when people traditionally visit cemeteries to pay their respects. (Note to travelers: November 1 is considered a national holiday, so shops and businesses will be closed.)


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