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Italian Lesson – October 2023


As in past October issues, the Herald dedicates this issue’s lesson to Halloween. Halloween has become a big celebration in Italy, although some Italians regard it as another invasion of American culture. The holiday’s origins are traced back to Europe and the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain when people would light bonfi res and wear costumes to ward off roaming spirits. In the 8th century, Pope Gregory III designated Nov. 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs; the holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween. In modern times the holiday has morphed into a more secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities such as trick-or-treating. It has also become popular for both children and adults to have Halloween-themed parties. This lesson is for those of you who celebrate Halloween and want to throw some Italian into the mix!

Here are some common seasonal expressions in Italian. Buon divertimento! (Enjoy!)

(La Vigilia d’Ogni Santo)


Let’s party!

Intagliamo la zucca!
Let’s carve the pumpkin!

Indossiamo un costume.
We dress up in costume.

Il gatto nero
Black cat

Lo scheletro

Il fantasma

Il pipistrello

Il ragno

La ragnatela


La maschera

Lupo mannaro

La crostata di zucca**
Pumpkin pie

Il Vampiro
La caramella

La mela caramellata**
Candied apple

Il sidro di mela
Apple cider
La strega***

Ossa di morte****
Bones of the dead


*Zucca derives from the Italian word “zucchina” (squash or courgette) used to best define our American pumpkin associated with the fall season. In its purest form “zucca” as in the phrase “testa di zucca,” refers to a person who lacks intelligence and/or common sense. However, for the purpose of describing the pumpkin, removing the “hin” from “zucchina,” gives the meaning of a large squash, which is what a pumpkin really is.

**These fall dessert delicacies haven’t caught on yet in the “old country,” but given the path to acceptance hot dogs, fries, and hamburgers have taken, it won’t be long before these items, too, will be available at the neighborhood “supermercato.”

***Unfortunately, the use of witch symbolism at Halloween has also been included in Italian celebrations. Unfortunate in that the famous witch, La Befana, the good Epiphany witch is slowly taking a back seat to Santa Claus as the gift giver of the Christmas holiday season. Equating witches to the spooky mystique of Halloween might be another step away from the beautiful Italian celebration of Epiphany.

****These are Italian seasonal cookies. Kids as well as adults who prefer the religious “Day of the Dead” over Halloween find their sweet treat in this traditional Italian favorite.

This month’s proverb
It is from Naples:
‘A meglia parola è chella ca nun se dice.
Italiano: La migliore parola
è quella che non si dice.
English translation:
The best word is the one that goes unspoken.

This month’s falso amico
It is sale, but it does not mean sale as in English. It means salt. In Italian the word for sale (as in back to school “sale”) is saldi.

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