Somikka: The “Assyrian Halloween”

Oct. 11

Fall brings with it many great things—cool crisp morning air, leaves in all sorts of beautiful colors, football, and Halloween. Just twenty days away, the holiday that marks the end of October each year is a favorite among young children who get to dress up—superheroes, witches, and princesses are always popular choices (it looks like Belle from Beauty and the Beast will replace Frozen’s Elsa at the top spot). Most believe the American tradition traces its roots back to an ancient Celtic festival called “Samhain” (pronounced sow-in).

Communities around the world observe holidays similar in theme to Halloween. In Mexico and across Latin America, for example, there is Dia de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead—which also stems from ancient Aztec tradition.

For Assyrians, there was “Somikka,” an ancient tradition that is still practiced today in parts of the Assyrian homeland. Rooted in the word “soma” meaning fast, some sources say that the holiday was founded as a way to motivate Assyrian children to observe fasts, particularly during Lent, where Christians adopt a vegan diet for the seven weeks leading up to Easter. Others claim the tradition pre-dates Christianity. Somikka would always take place the day before a fast began. It is said that when it was first created, young men would dress up in costumes and visit young children in their homes, essentially to scare them into fasting.

Regardless of its origins, today, Somikka happens twice a year: the day before the Nativity Fast, and the day before Lent. Children dress up wearing masks and makeshift costumes (there are no Party City stores in Assyria), and go door to door in their villages to collect candy and money.

Assyrian children celebrating Somikka in Khabour, Syria.

On Halloween, children say “trick or treat,” but Assyrian kids during Somikka have to work a bit harder before they get their treats and move on. Each time they visit a new home, they’re expected to perform a fun song called “Qatona.” Check out the short clip of Assyrian children in Sarsing below to hear it. Though some of the lyrics vary from village to village, they are the same for the most part.

The tradition allows Assyrian children final chance to indulge on their favorite treats before the fast begins, and is still very popular among Assyrians, namely in Iraq and Syria.