Halloween, the darkest and scariest day of the year, is approaching. And kids are already thinking about how to dress up and go from door to door asking “trick or treat”.
The Celtic origin: Samhain’s feast
It is believed that Halloween has its origins in Celtic culture. For the ancient inhabitants of Great Britain, Ireland and France, the 1st of November symbolised the end of the “warm season” and the beginning of the “darkness and cold’s season”.
It was a very important moment of passage for these people, who were dedicated to agriculture and farming. And the Celts on October 31st waited for their New Year (Samhain) with great terror.
They feared that on that day – which belonged neither to the new nor to the old year – the realm of the dead might communicate with the living’s one.
The feast, which came to the United States thanks to Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century, spread powerfully across the Atlantic. Here it took on a commercial and consumerist character that gradually obscured its original meaning.
The Tuscan tradition: “Morte Secca” or “Zozzo” or “poero Zozza”
Our grandparents don’t recognise themselves in the custom of dressing up as zombies, ghosts, vampires or witches. And they don’t conceive of the idea of ringing neighbourhood doorbells in search of “tricks and treats”.
However, there is one element, one of Halloween’s identifying symbols, which unites the Tuscan tradition with the American celebrations: the pumpkin.
Until a few decades ago it was customary at this time of year to hollow out a pumpkin, carve it and give it the shape of eyes, nose and mouth. Then a candle was placed on a plate inside the autumn vegetable and was lit. And sometimes a cloth was placed around it to simulate a dress.
After sunset, the pumpkin – which was called “Morte Secca” or “Zozzo” and in our parts “poero Zozza” (i.e. “poor Zozza”) – was placed in the garden, on a wall or outside the door or window. And the candle was left to burn until dawn.
The function and the meaning of “poero Zozza”
Despite its frightening appearance, this puppet had an auspicious, apotropaic function: it was used to ward off fears, to drive away evil spells and spirits and to ensure good luck for the family.
Furthermore, it was a sort of game, a joke to frighten someone. Children enjoyed carrying “poero Zozza” around on a pole all night, singing nursery rhymes about skeletons, ogres and little devils.
In conclusion, the pumpkin’s ritual was probably based on the relationship between life and death. Like for the Celts, for the ancient farmers, the period between the end of October and the beginning of November was a prelude to the fields’ rest, waiting for the spring’s rebirth.
If you would also like to make a “poero Zozza” as our grandparents did, you can find the step-by-step process here. Then, on Halloween’s night, you can sit in front of the fireplace with a glass of our Crepuscolo and tell scary stories with friends. And, to round off in a thrilling atmopshere, a horror movie is a must!