Happy Haunting. Trick or Treat? Beware! Keep Out! Danger! Caution! Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
All phrases, words and notions that should be quite familiar to you if you celebrate Halloween, but have you ever asked yourself why?
Halloween is a beloved autumnal holiday observed in numerous countries around the world, and while Halloween traditions may differ around the world, the end of October and the beginning of November have been significant celebrations for a very long time.
There of course is some debate as to where the tradition truly began, was the ignited by Christianity or of Celtic design?
Where did Halloween originate from?
The belief dates back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain which marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darker half of the year.
This ‘darker’ part of the year could explain the ghoulish costumes and terrifying outfits put together by fans of the annual celebration.
The Gaelic festival is famous among Celts who believed that at the end of summer, the barrier between the living and the ghosts and spirits on the other side was at its thinnest.
Irish mythology on the celebration is full of the supernatural, from werewolves to magical spears, fire breathing villains and more.
Samhain would involve children dressing in disguises while they move from door to door collecting gifts in the form of food, coins or apples.
These ‘gifts’ have seen some major changes in recent years transitioning to bags full of chocolates and sweets instead.
Another belief held about the origins of Halloween comes from the Christian faith, a tradition that has adopted the Jack-o-Lantern as the symbol of Halloween to scare away evil spirits.
The name Halloween derives from All Hallows’ Evening, or All Hallows’ Eve, which marks a feast in the Western Christian faith dedicated to remembering the dead.
Especially martyrs, the faithful departed and hallows (a saint or holy person).
All Hallows’ Day was switched to November 1 in 835, making All Hallow’s Eve, the date it currently is today.
Though many recognise the tradition is likely derived from both ancient beginnings, others choose to believe Halloween is solely a Christian celebration.
The most religious who uphold the traditions of the original Halloween attend church services and light candles on the graves of the dead.
Why Are Halloween Traditions So Unusual?
Every holiday that is widely practiced around the world has certain traditions that may seem slightly strange to outsiders, and Halloween is no exception. All Hallows Eve includes dressing up in frightening costumes, bobbing for apples, and asking strangers for candy, among others. That being said, all the traditions of Halloween can be traced back to other parts of autumnal pagan celebrations from the past.
Dressing up in costume is a remnant of Samhain, when worshippers would dress up in animals skins and masks. Since the boundary between the real world and the spirit world was so thin, demons and ghosts were believed to walk the earth. By dressing up like these supernatural beings, one would be safe if they encountered a “real” demon on the streets during Samhain.
The connection of the spirit world and ghosts is why so many Halloween costumes are still scary, demonic, or supernatural in nature. In recent decades, dressing up as different characters and celebrities from pop culture, as well as funny or clever costumes, has become just as acceptable and normal.
Bobbing for apples is likely related to Pomona, one of the two Roman autumnal festivals that began to creep into Celtic practice in the first few centuries of the first millennium. Pomona was the Roman goddess of trees and fruit, so there was likely an abundance of apples around this time of year, so “wastefully” playing with this plethora of food makes sense!
Trick-or-treating, the practice of young people going around to the houses of neighbors and friends to receive candy and other treats is perhaps the most unusual practice of the holiday. In the Middle Ages, this was known as “guising”, wherein children and adults would disguise themselves in costumes, go to other houses and offer songs/prayers in exchange for money or food. Over the years, this has developed into the tradition of asking for children playfully begging for food and money from neighbors and strangers alike, although the first appearance of the term “trick or treat” isn’t until the 1920s!
Why do we celebrate Halloween?
Since its ancient beginnings, Halloween has become highly popularised with parties, events and trick or treating taking place in its honour.
According to history.co.uk consumers spent more than £300m on Halloween in 2017, making it the UK’s third biggest retail event after Christmas and Easter.
The occasion unlike other nationally celebrations is suitable for both adults and children in different ways – because let’s face it, who doesn’t want to dress up?