It’s finally my favourite day of the year, I think its time for me to talk about why I like it and to talk more about this western festival.
This is Halloween, Halloween, Halloween, Halloween!~
Now I know that many people believe that Halloween originated from America, but they are totally wrong. It’s origins are from the UK. Although it is said that its origins go back to the Celtic Harvest festival and Gaelic festival the “Samhain”. This was to make the end of the harvest and to prepare for the dark winter months to come. These festivals may have roots are believed to be from pagan. However, when Christianity was introduced to the UK, they didn’t like the dark side of the holiday, so they tried to take over and make them celebrate All Saint’s day, aka All Hallow’s Day, instead. However, it became more of a 3 day long festival. Although in recent times, not many people celebrate it as a 3 day long festival as its lost most of its religious roots. Since it was introduced to America, it has become materialised and the focal point of the festival has moved towards only eating sweets/candy and wearing costumes.
All Hallow’s Eve (31st October)
It is commonly known by its shortened version, Halloween. It is the pagan “Festival of the Dead”. Its the one day where the boundaries between the two worlds are at its thinnest. Which meant that creatures from the underworld or Aos Si (the spirits and fairies), were able to pass through into the land of the living and to some, this meant that souls of the dead could revisit their homes and join their families for one night. Some people would set a place at a table near the fire for them to sit and join them during the feast. Which I think is sweet. Okay, it might seem a little crazy, but at least it shows another day where you remember your past loved ones and allow them to join you.
Whereas, for Samhain, people would give offering to help ensure they would survive the winter ahead. They would leave food, drink, and portions of crops where left outside for Aos Si to take. So I guess this is similar to the Christian Harvest festival. Although for Christian’s its more about thanking God, they still give offerings during the harvest service.
All Saints’ Day (1st November)
Moving onto the Christian day of All Saints’ day. It is otherwise known as All Hallows’ Day, or Hallowmas (so another day like Christmas???). This is where people remember past Saints, known or unknown. Its basically a day where people give thanks to God for all his saints. Some churches will also hold a special service on this day.
In some countries in Europe, they will visit the cemetery or graveyard on this day, to pray for past family members. They will light candles and leave flowers to honour their past relatives. Now this way of celebrating is very similar to the Japanese festival of Obon, which is their festival to honour the dead. In August, people will return to their hometown to their older relatives house. Then together, they will visit their family grave, clean it and pray for their ancestors.
All Soul’s Day (2nd November)
This is another day where some Christian denominations honour those who have departed. It is more focused on lost family members than of God’s Saints. Whereas for other Christians is it seen as an extension of All Saints’ day, praying for God’s Saints.
There are even some denominations where they believe that ringing the church bell with help cleanse the souls that are stuck in purgatory. Helping these souls to feel calm and ready to move on to the next world. Also, some would light candles that would seen to help souls that were lingering in the darkness.
Over the years, there have many some well-kept traditions that have lasted for so long. However, over time, it has changed and is very different to what it use to be. People have forgotten about the reasons why these traditions were used during Halloween. Currently, most people only associate sweets(or candy) and costumes to Halloween.
“On route home after a night’s drinking, Jack encounters the Devil and tricks him into climbing a tree. A quick-thinking Jack etches the sign of the cross into the bark, thus trapping the Devil. Jack strikes a bargain that Satan can never claim his soul. After a life of sin, drink, and mendacity, Jack is refused entry to heaven when he dies. Keeping his promise, the Devil refuses to let Jack into hell and throws a live coal straight from the fires of hell at him. It was a cold night, so Jack places the coal in a hollowed out turnip to stop it from going out, since which time Jack and his lantern have been roaming looking for a place to rest.”
– Encyclopedia of Death and Dying (Glennys Howarth, Oliver Leaman), Taylor & Francis, p. 320
Jack O’lanterns represent a soul that is not allowed to enter either Heaven or Hell,forever wondering in purgatory. Also, for some superstitious people, it is seen to help ward off any evil spirits from entering people’s homes. Keeping them safe what creatures from the underworld such as; vampires and werewolves. So that is why a lot of people display Jack O’lanterns near their front door and put candles inside them.
Although, today it is more common for people to use pumpkin to make the lantern. In the past, people in Ireland used any vegetable they could find and carve it for the lantern. In Ireland, people use a turnip as there wasn’t any pumpkin in the UK during that time. It was really difficult for them to carve the face into the turnip and it really does make a far more scarier version than the one we recognise more today.
Trick or Treating
Now this is something I really can’t talk about from a personal experience. I grew up in a Christian and Atheist household as a child. My father is a devoted Christian and my mother never took us Trick-or-Treating as a child. If I am perfectly honest, I am glad I never went. I didn’t see the point of knocking on stranger’s doors and asking them for sweets or chocolates. Even as I got older, Trick-or-Treating wasn’t a very big thing. I am sure the number of trick-or-treaters diminished over the years. In my household, we would turn off lights and turn down the TV to try to mask the fact that we were in. We never answered the door during Halloween. It is something that was very common for people to do. However, in the past 10 years or so, people even started printing off signs to say Trick-or-Treaters are not welcome.
Its has changed a bit from its original version. Souling was a tradition that was from both Pagans and Christians during medieval UK. People would visit local farms and cottages to sing songs requesting ale, apples and soul cakes. It was said that it would be groups of poor young children who go asking for food to help them through the long dark winter days and nights. They would sing songs and bless the house in exchange for food and drink. The Cakes were also made to commemorate the dead and were made during All-hallow-tide. Some people often kept as a little good luck charm.
As there was no candy in those days, the only things they had a lot of, were things that they could grow. Its definitely a cheaper version than all the expensive sweets and chocolates we buy now. Children now are far concerned about getting sweets/candy rather than learning about why they go from door to door asking for small gifts.
This one of the big traditions that as remained over time. Wearing costumes is a big part of Halloween. People are able to dress however they like for one night only. The amount of costumes each year is ever growing. In the past, people use to only wear costumes of demons, witches, ghosts, ghouls. Today, there is really no set style of clothing to choose from. Ranging from Princesses and Queens to Pokemon characters. Although I don’t really know if many people actually know the reason for wearing costumes. At least some traditions have survived the ages.
In Medieval UK, it was called “Guising“. It was so that people who opened the door couldn’t tell if it was a spirit or child beneath the costume. So it allowed for spirits to blend in with those trick-or-treaters. Hence why if people don’t get a small gift, they will play a trick on the person who opens the door. As it is what Evil spirits do best, its just this is the one night where they are allowed to do so.
- Apple Bobbing –
This is one activity that is very popular in the UK for Halloween. Trying to catch a floating apple in a large bucket of water with your mouth is more difficult that it sounds. Its a fun activity for those who are not wearing face paint.
- Fortune Telling –
Having your fortune told or even standing in front of a mirror in a dark room hoping to catch a glimpse of your future partner
- Haunted Houses –
Its more common to see Haunted houses in America than it is in the UK. I never really heard of anyone having a Haunted House like event in my hometown. So again, I can’t really talk about it.
- Ghost Walks –
Now this is more popular in the UK. As there are many haunted places with some stories to tell. Many people will make groups are guided through the area and may encounter ghosts (or paid actors). In my hometown, there are many places where you can see ghosts that haunt old buildings, so its the perfect opportunity to explore with a guide rather than going alone.
- Haunted Maze –
Another activity that is popular in America. As Halloween falls in Autumn after the harvest, there is use for corn fields. Making a maze within the field is perfect extra use for the tall long plants. I can’t really say I have experienced it. There are not many corn fields in the UK and we are probably too lazy to set it up.
- Costume Parties –
The other activity that is popular around the world. It maybe that its just a simple party where people dress up in costumes and drink the night away. For children, there are usually messy games to play and competitions of who has the best costume.
Why I like it
Now over the years, there had always been something about Halloween that fascinated me. Maybe it was because of the limitations from the Christian side of my family that made me even more curious about the history of this festival. Apart from my Dance shows, there wasn’t many other days where I could wear a costume. Or even a day where I could happily celebrate a tradition that was different from the happy and cheerful festivals. Although my mother would always dress me up as a Witch for Halloween, as much as I hated it back then, mostly because of the green face-paint…. There was something about magic that drew me in. And as there were so many children’s movies that contained witches, it wasn’t something my parents could easily hide from me,
Now. I am not saying I practice witchcraft or anything like that. Its just the idea of something dark and sinister that appeals to me. I guess it didn’t help that my mother also loves the supernatural. She always watches programmes about ghosts and haunted places on TV. So it was always there. Yet, it wasn’t until my years at University were I started to associate myself as a Goth. I loved watching Vampire movies and then later loving all movies about the supernatural and horror movies. Although it has become more like that horror movies now, no longer scare me, but I can watch a horror movie and laugh at everyone else who finds it scary. I guess watching so many movies in the same genre can distort your personal perception a little bit.
It also helps that my favourite Director is none-other than Tim Burton. I have seen most of his movies (excluding Big Eyes, Planet of the Apes and Ed Wood). Most of my top ten favourite movies are Burton’s work. So YAY for being a Goth and loving Nightmare Before Christmas so much that I can’t stop myself from buying any of the goods LOL. I recently bought a Zero teapot with a Jack Skellington mug set. At least my friends never really have to worry about trying to find me presents.. just buy anything that is for Nightmare Before Christmas and you are sorted!!
Sorry this turned out to be such a lost entry. I hope someone found it interesting.