The 31st of October is nearly upon us which only means one thing… Halloween is coming. Halloween is now one of the most celebrated holidays in the UK, so get those pumpkins carved and lit, start thinking about what you’ll dress up as and dig out the costumes from that box in the loft, and make sure you’ve got bags of sweets at the ready for the trick or treaters – it’s going to be a spooktastic event!
On Thursday the 31st of October, revellers will be able to enjoy all the spine-tingling festivities that Halloween brings the world every year. The haunting event usually consists of fun activities and events, including trick or treating, watching scary films and carving pumpkins.
But why do we celebrate Halloween and where did the tradition originate?
It’s a common misconception that Halloween originated in America, but the tradition was actually started up a bit closer to home.
The origins of Halloween come from ancient religious rituals, dating back to the ancient Celtic end-of-summer festival of Samhain 2,000 years ago, the Celts, who lived in the area that is now the UK, Ireland and Northern France, celebrated the New Year on November the 1st.
They believed that at the end of the year, on the night of October the 31st, spirits came back from the dead to wander amongst the living. In the 9th century, the influence of Christianity had spread into the Celtic lands, and the Catholic Church eventually declared November the 2nd as All Soul’s Day – a day to honour the dead.
It’s widely believed that the Catholic Church wished to replace the Celtic festival of the dead with a church-sanctioned holiday, therefore the term All Soul’s Day eventually transformed into the name All Hallow’s Eve; and as we know it today, Halloween.
Halloween has many spooky traditions, trick or treating being one but why do we go trick or treating?
Many UK and Ireland Halloween traditions, such as trick-or-treating, stem back as far as 1000 AD. Poor citizens would knock from door-to-door, begging for food in exchange for songs and prayers to commemorate passed loved ones. These citizens were known as soulers because the food they received was known as a soul-cake: a small round cake with a cross marked on top which, when eaten, symbolised a soul being freed from Purgatory.
Later in the 19th century, the tradition of souling was adapted into what is known as guising in which instead of offering a prayer, children would perform songs, recite poems, tell jokes, play instruments or play a trick in return for coins.
Trick-or-treating specifically became popular in early 1940s America after the World War 2 sugar rations were lifted, following on from the movement to turn Halloween into a community-centred holiday in the 1800s.
The tradition of trick-or-treating today is associated with dressing in a disguising costume. When the Celts believed spirits came back from the dead, they also thought that citizens would encounter ghosts if they left the safety of their homes. Therefore, upon venturing out into the cold of the night, people would wear masks so as to not be recognised by the ghosts.
In Celtic celebrations on 31st October, villagers would dress up to ward off spirits and would leave out treats to satisfy any unwelcome, phantom visitors. Soon, people would dress up as ghosts and wear other terrifying costumes, putting on an act in exchange for candy. This is trick or treating in its oldest form.
Skip ahead a few years, and 2nd November became All Souls Day in England. Poor people would visit the homes of the rich and ask that they pray for their deceased loved ones. Soon, children would start knocking on the doors of the wealthy asking for food and money.
In Scotland and Ireland children would wear costumes and perform tricks on people’s doorsteps in exchange for a treat. This was known as guising.
Many years later, immigrants arriving in America, particularly from Ireland, made Halloween popular and introduced the tradition of guising. Over time it became a rowdy activity and an opportunity for young people to create havoc, but sugar rationing during World War 2 put an end to it.
After World War 2, Trick or Treating became popular again, and continues to be to this day, and has been promoted over the years by the media and comic books. The industry is now booming, with sweet companies making a fortune in October each year, particularly in the US.
The only difference we really notice today is how Halloween continues to be a spooky time of year in the UK, as history dictates, while costumes are much less scary and a lot more colourful in the US.
Today, in the UK, Halloween is celebrated as the third biggest holiday after Christmas and New Years Eve. Traditional activities range from ghost walks, lighting bonfires, pumpkin carving, apple-bobbing and of course, trick-or-treating at night.
Many countries around the globe traditionally celebrate the holiday of Halloween and it’s being celebrated by morning people in more countries than ever before. There’s a simple reason: it is fun and it is good, clean, harmless fun for young and old alike!
In Mexico, Latin America and Spain, citizens celebrate the Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) in which they honour the spirits of deceased loved ones who have returned from heaven to enjoy the festivities. Breads, candies and other foods are made into iconic shapes of skulls and skeletons.
In Germany, Halloween has gained its popularity in the past decade ,as many of the older generation believe that Halloween is merely an Americanised, commercial holiday. However, one long-standing tradition is to hide knives so as to not risk harm to (or from) the returning spirits.
Japan embraces Halloween as a Western-style tradition and hold themed events at their Disneyland and Universal Studios theme parks. Japanese Buddhists also honour the spirits of their ancestors in a tradition known as Bon Festival.
In China, the Halloween festival is named Teng Chieh. Food and water are placed in front of family photographs of deceased loved ones. Bonfires and lanterns are also lit to guide their spirits safely back to earth.
In Austria, for Seleenwochen (Alls Soul’s Week) it’s also traditional to place bread, water and a lighted lamp on a bedside table before sleeping. This welcomes the dead souls back to earth. Austrian Catholics celebrate this period from October 30th to November 8th.
Halloween is not typically a part of Australian culture, however is celebrated non-religiously as result of America’s pop-culture influence. Trick-or-treating is also rare in France as they do not traditionally celebrate the holiday; neither does the country of Russia.
Sweden celebrates Halloween, known to them as Alla Helgons Dag, from the 31st of October to November the 6th. As with many other countries’ celebrations, the day becomes a shortened working day or vacation.
Some countries follow similar practises and superstitions to those originating in the UK and Ireland. The Belgians believe it unlucky for a black cat to cross their path or enter their home. Other popular superstitions originating from the Celts say that if a member of the house sees a spider on All Hallows Eve, it is the soul of the deceased member of their family.
Whether Halloween is your thing or not, get in the spirit, grab some sweets from the shop and most importantly… have fun!!!