The end of October is a truly magical time to be in the historic Friuli Venezia Giulia region of Italy.
In the town of San Daniele del Friuli, as well as in the surrounding areas, we hold dear the traditions and rituals of our ancestors. This is true throughout the year, of course, but especially so around the time of Halloween when children and adults alike come onto the streets to experience this time of enchantment.
Around the world, Halloween is celebrated in many different ways, but it has its roots in the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day. It is a time when the barriers between the world of the living and the dead are said to come down, as people commemorate their ancestors and worship their saints and the dead are thought to be able to communicate with the living.
People celebrate this time of the year with pumpkins, scary costumes, frightening masks and tales of witches and ghouls, but here in the north-east corner of Italy, we also have traditions that are special to us. These traditions have been kept alive by local people throughout the generations and if you ever visit the region during late October, you will enjoy entering into the carnival spirit.
The main Italian holidays are All Saints’ Day (Ognissanti) on 1 November and All Souls’ Day on 2 November, when we remember loved ones who have passed away, but we also start the celebrations a few days earlier, on 30 October.
In the Lauco, Buttea and Uerpa districts, the throwing of Cidules (wooden wheels) on 30 and 31 October is a tradition with Celtic origins. It’s a marvellous sight to behold, as fiery wooden wheels made of beech (las cidules) are thrown from cliffs and high slopes, accompanied by much shouting, hooting and hollering. Folk music rings out throughout the towns and families get together with their neighbours to enjoy hot drinks as they enjoy the spectacle.
Elsewhere in the province of Udine, in the town of Ampezzo, La Not Dalis Muars is commemorated on 31 October. The words ‘La Not Dalis Muars’ are in the regional Friulano dialect but in English it’s called The Night of the Pumpkins and is a celebration of the Celtic New Year.
In the local dialect, the ‘muars’ are carved pumpkins and these days, the annual Night of the Pumpkins event is an evocative historical re-enactment of traditional Celtic New Year’s Eve celebrations, with musical acts playing throughout the town and the delicious aroma of local dishes filling the air, from food carts and stalls set up outside restaurants.
As the sun sets, the only illumination to light the way ahead comes from torches and the light coming from within the carved pumpkins that line the courtyards and narrow streets of the old village. Jugglers and fire eaters entertain the crowds in what, to any visitor, must seem like an otherworldly and surreal atmosphere.
And have you ever wondered about the colours of Halloween? Orange represents the pumpkins, of course, but it’s also the colour of the grain crop of late summer, while black represents the darkness of winter. That’s why you’ll see so many decorations in orange and black, in houses and shop windows.
When it comes to eating at Halloween, we like to enjoy warming comfort food and the cold days of Autumn slip into the even frostier climate of winter. It’s a time of the year when people have traditionally started to turn their thoughts to heartier meals, with plenty of pasta, protein and bread. Prosciutto di San Daniele isn’t just a summer delight, used in picnics and with fresh crusty bread, it has many uses in winter recipes too.
A favourite of San Daniele del Friuli is the local dish Taglioni al San Daniele, in which Prosciutto di San Daniele is cut into fine strips then sautéed until crispy and served with poppy seeds in a creamy sauce in taglioni pasta. You’ll find it in local restaurants, but it’s also a quick and easy dish to make at home, and it’s the perfect winter warmer as we celebrate Halloween and start to embrace winter.
If you ever get the opportunity to visit Friuli Venezia Giulia in late October, you won’t be disappointed. The chance to experience the traditional customs of the region is one not to be missed.
To find out more about our region, visit our official website.