The 1st of November is a national holiday in Italy, known as Tutti i Santi or Ognissanti, which celebrates all saints and is followed by All Souls Day on the 2nd of November, a day devoted to honor loved ones who have passed away.
Il Giorno dei Morti begins at dawn with a somber Mass for the dead, offering prayers and alms for the deceased. After Mass, families visit the graveyard to pay tribute to the faithful who have gone before them. At the cemetery, the graves of family members are decorated with mums and candles.
Yet, the day is not only a solemn affair and the remembrance of the deceased can turn into a celebratory occasion in certain regions, especially in Sicily.
In Sicilian, this ‘day of the dead’ is known as "U juornu re muorti". Children wake up hoping to find a treat from relatives not yet forgotten. The ‘muorti’ bring presents of toys and sweets. The tradition serves to strengthen family bonds, linking children to family members who have come and gone before them.
Until a few decades ago, this was in fact the only celebration of the year when children received presents, usually sweets and toys. Today there are many other occasions during the year (Christmas, Epifania, Birthdays, etc.) and the tradition risks to loose its strength. But parents continue to warn their children to behave in hopes that "i bonarmuzza re muorticieddi" (the good souls of the dead) might bring them presents. The young ones wake up on the 2nd of November to hunt for presents that had been hidden around the house.
One of the most common treats is Frutta Martorana, sweets made of almond paste that are expertly crafted to look like fruits. The marzipan delicacies are a specialty in Palermo, Sicily, where they are said to have been first made by nuns at the Monastero della Martorana. The nuns prepared the ‘Frutta’ in honor of a visiting archibishop at Easter time. The bishop was so impressed by the convincing display of fruit and vegetables that he declared that a miracle must have occurred to allow such a bountiful harvest so early in spring.