It may have prehistoric origins, but it has been celebrated since the dawn of time and resembles traditional Anglo-Saxon festivals. It is the night at the end of October when the realms of light and darkness come together and allow the souls of the dead, having opened the gates of purgatory, to return to the places they once belonged to and to wander among the living. The suspended souls include the Janas as told in popular island legends and oral tradition. They are small spirits balanced between earth and sky, with persuasive voices and enchanting beauty, fairies or witches depending on the places where they are summoned. The live in domus de Janas, tombs dug into the rock, the symbol of a cultural facies that spread throughout Sardinia between the 4th and 3rd millennium BC.
Is animeddas in the south of the island, su mortu mortu, is panixeddas and su bene ‘e sas animas in Marghine, Goceano and Barbagie, su peti coccone in Baronia, a pedire a sos moltos in Logudoro. The name of the festival varies, but the traditional children's quest is the same. They go around the village streets knocking on every door and reciting traditional nursery rhymes, asking for an offering for the souls suspended between heaven and hell. In Galtellì the request is ‘carchi cosa a sas ànimas’ (something for souls). In Usini and Tissi, in the Sassari area, they exclaim ‘a fagher bene a sos mortos!’ (do some good for the dead!). In Seui, at the gates of Ogliastra, su Prugadoriu: is celebrated the children wear a white robe with a sack on their shoulders and chant the litany ‘seus benius po is animeddas’(we have come for the little souls). In Campidano, in response to the request ‘si onada a is animas?’ (give us something for the souls?), children were once given pane ‘e sapa, oranges, pomegranates and almonds, today candies, biscuits and chocolates.
Grazia Deledda remembers su mortu mortu of Nuoro, tells of "bread all carved and sculpted" and "sweets made from raisins, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts, put together in a kind of paste mixed with sapa", a basic ingredient in the Nuoro confectionery tradition. In Barbagie, children are given chestnuts and sweets prepared for the occasion, papassinos, copulettas and ossus de mortu. In Orune for sas ànimas two original loaves were given out: sa pitzinna ’e sos santos, depicting a doll for girls, and sos puzzoneddos, in the shape of little birds, for boys. The offerings were placed in rucksacks and bags while in Bonnanaro, Bonorva, Cossoine and Torralba the children went around with a napkin tied at the corners. In Dorgali they used a cane basket or a sewn handkerchief, while the girls put their gifts in s’isportedda, a small basket.
While the children go from house to house, the families prepare sweets to be handed out and a frugal dinner for the wandering souls, once based on broad beans, now on fresh pasta, bread and wine. In many parts of the island the table was left set for the whole night. This was the case in Sedilo and in other villages in the province of Oristano, Narbolia, Nurachi and Siamanna, where people waited for Maria pinta ’a oru, the questing sacristan, to pass by. Elsewhere, on the first two days of November, altar boys, gravediggers and sacristans also quested. In Martis, in Anglona, families gave out fresh bread, lard, sausages and cheese to the poor. In Lula, for the cannelaglios, quest, the mothers of the sacristans prepared the broth in the church courtyard, where the villagers gathered to enjoy it. Centuries-old customs linked to the tradition of each town, still alive today.