For kids growing up in the U.S., Halloween is one of the best times of the year. You get to dress up like your favorite monster, superhero, or cartoon character and for doing so, you’re bombarded with enough candy to rot every tooth in your head twice over. In Italy, this is still a fairly new concept, having only recently been imported from the U.S. and it’s struggling to gain traction here. Normally, Italians will embrace any opportunity to indulge the children. But you get the sense that they haven’t yet fully understood the reason behind this strange holiday. Frankly, neither did I—until I did a little research. And since Halloween can be a time for ghost stories and tall tales of every sort, allow me to narrate one version of how this odd combination of sweet treats and departed souls came about.
Like many of our modern celebrations around the world, Halloween has its roots in ancient religious rites. The Roman version of this tale involves the Emperor Constantine and his desire to appease the masses by crafting a harmonious transition from Paganism to Christianity. Before his rule, all Christians had to be buried outside of the Aurelian Walls. However, wanting to increase his own popularity by showing support for the latest fashion in deity -worshiping, he decided to allow the Christians to move the bones of their saints, martyrs and the rest of their ancestors from outside of Rome to within its walls.
What’s more, for full theatrical value, he dug a massive grave below the floor of the Pantheon in the very center of Rome where all the remains could be collectively buried. Voila! The Pantheon goes from a Pagan Temple to a Christian Church in the course of a single evening and we now have ourselves a brand new holiday. You see where I’m going with this—the aforementioned evening was October 31st.
This was not by mistake. Being a shrewd politician, he had planned it all very carefully. In doing so, he chose to undertake this task on the eve of November 1st, which was/is “Tutti Santi.” Later, this would be translated into Scottish as All Hallows’ (Saints) Day and of course the night before was called All-Hallows’-Even (“evening”). Or Halloween, as we say today.
As for the plethora of sweets and the subsequent cavities in the teeth of small children, I can only speculate that this more modern tradition grew out of a conspiracy pact between the candy manufacturers and the American Dental Association. I have no direct proof of this, but I do have credible sources who wish to remain anonymous. Which is understandable, I think. Because when it comes to inspiring fear in young children, ghosts and goblins have nothing on dentists.