In popular culture Halloween is seen as a time to revel in ghastly activities, hold spooky parties, carve pumpkins and go trick or treating. Every year thousands of people dress up in macabre costumes to spook their friends and family and hold ghostly themed parties. But where do these traditions originate from and why do we take part in such gruesome activities?
The word Halloween comes from Hallowe’en, meaning ‘hallowed evening’ or holy evening as it precedes All Saints Day which is on November 1st. It is however widely thought that Halloween traditions originated from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, meaning ‘summer’s end’ which marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of Winter or the ‘darker half’ of the year.
People at this time thought the walls between the worlds of the living and the dead were thin and that spirits could pass through into our realm. At the end of summer, the Celts believed that the veil between worlds was at its thinnest allowing the ghosts of the dead to return to Earth. People believed the spirits should be appeased in order to ensure their people and livestock survived the Winter and the crops for the next season would not be damaged.
The souls of the dead were thought to revisit their homes at Samhain, seeking hospitality. Feasts were had at which the souls of the dead were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them. Bonfires were lit to scare off evil spirits. Fruit was left at the door to placate the hunger of any wandering dead and people dressed in costumes when traveling to disguise themselves and confuse any dead who might mean them harm.
In the 9th century AD the Western Christian Church changed the date of All Saints Day from May to 1st November and All Souls Day was eventually changed to 2nd November. Over time, Samhain, All Saints and All Souls Day merged to create the modern Halloween.
When the Christians adopted the traditions, the costumed characters began to go door to door seeking alms or gifts for the saints, a tradition which eventually morphed into our modern day trick-or-treating.
It’s traditional in our house to hold a Halloween party for the kids. We don’t set a place at the table for visiting ghosts but we do see it a great opportunity for some family fun. We decorate the house, the kids dress up in gruesome costumes, invite their friends over for food and then we all head off trick or treating. The evening usually finishes on the living room floor, with a bunch of very giddy kids counting mountains of sweets.
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Love it or hate it I would love to hear about your own experiences of Halloween and what you and your family love to get up to.
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