31st October 2016
Happy Halloween everyone!
Today, people are known to watch scary films, get dressed up in costumes and go ‘Trick or Treat’ around their neighbourhood, and go to scare nights. But it’s always interesting to look into why exactly we do these things- where did Halloween come from, and how become what it is today?
The Celts used to celebrate All Hallows Evening, which marked the ending of Harvest and their official beginning of winter. The change between the seasons built a bridge between the living world, and the world of the dead. The spirits came alive this night as the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. Their new year was marked as November 1st, so Halloween night was the last night of the year before winter which was a season many died due to the long cold nights- so the 31st was named Samhaim. Samhaim was a very important date in the Pagan calendar as it marked their ‘Feast of the Dead.’
Today, we buy pumpkins and carve these, placing candles inside. These Jack O’Lanterns were carried round the streets in Pagan times to ward off evil spirits. In places such as England and Ireland, we didn’t have pumpkins yet, and so it’s believed the Irish would carve turnips instead. When they emigrated to the USA, they discovered the pumpkin which served as better to this ritual, so the tradition of using a pumpkin was born from this time.
In the 1950s, the holiday became more orientated towards the young, and instead of tricking the neighbourhood with pranks and mischief, the Trick or Treat became more ‘treat’ orientated, with children dressing up in costumes and receiving chocolate and sweets from their neighbours. This tradition began in America and has gradually spread to the UK and Europe, creating the most successful commercially successful holiday, second only to Christmas.
A holiday always surrounded by superstition, the tradition for dressing up has European and Celtic roots. Winter was a frightening time for many with food supplies that couldn’t always be relied upon, and cold dark nights bringing many deaths and worry. Due to the fact they believed the ghosts came back to earth, they thought that if they left their homes on this night, they would encounter ghosts. To avoid being recognised, they would wear masks so that the ghosts would recognise them as fellow spirits and leave them alone. To keep the ghosts from entering their homes, they left bowls of food outside their homes to satisfy the ghosts.
Today some of us avoid crossing paths with black cats as in the Middle Ages many believed that witches avoided being detected by transforming themselves into cats. We don’t walk under ladders; perhaps due to the Ancient Egyptians who believed triangles to be sacred, or due to the fact it seems unsafe, and on a day where the lines are blurred between the living and the dead, we’d better not risk it.