Love it or hate it, it’s that time of year again. Halloween, the popular tradition of dressing in costume and trick-or-treating your neighbours is carried out all over the globe, with adults and children alike enjoying the festivities. However, how much do you know about the origins of Halloween? Read on to find out more.
Origins Of Halloween
Historians continue to debate where the true beginnings of Halloween lie, but one of the most popular theories is based in Celtic Britain.
The Celts – Ireland, Scotland and part of France – participated in the celebration of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) on 1st November every year. The day marked the end of the summer season and the start of winter, a time of bitter cold, decay and death. The Celts also believed that on 31st October, the day before, the boundary between the living and dead thinned, with the ghosts of their ancestors returning to earth to reek havoc e.g. killing crops, causing chaos. It was also thought that Celtic priests (Druids) relied on the return of the dead to make predictions for the coming year – so, for example, whether the following summer’s crops would be healthy.
To mark this special occasion the Druids would light huge bonfires in the villages around the region, burning crops and animals as sacrifices to the ghosts. The villagers in attendance would dress in animal skins and heads as part of the tradition, and would offer up items to burn. Some historians believe that the costumes were used as a way of disguising themselves amongst the ‘returned’, helping them blend in and go unnoticed. It’s also thought that believers would leave food and wine outside their huts to ward off evil. This ties into the Mexican tradition of Dia De Los Muertos (Day Of The Dead) celebrated on 1st November, when people would leave out treats and bowls of water for their returning deceased relatives, welcoming them back across the divide for the day.
Over the years the traditions of Samhain have adapted and changed with the times. After the introduction of Christianity the day was renamed All Saints’ Day/All Hallows’ Day, with 31st October named All Hallows’ Eve, eventually shortened to Halloween/Hallowe’en.
Trick Or Treat?
According to historians the tradition of trick-or-treating can be followed back to the performance of ‘souling’ or ‘guising’. On 2nd November the needy would pray for the souls of the deceased in return for Soul Cakes (apparently similar to Hot Cross Buns) offered by the relatives. As for guising, young adults would perform songs, poetry and jokes if given gifts of food, wine and money.
When Scottish and Irish immigrants arrived in America these traditions were revived, but it wasn’t until the 1950s when Halloween became truly ‘children centred’.
Otherwise Known As…
- All Hallows’ Eve
- All Saints’ Eve
- Start of Allhallowtide, the season of remembering the dead
- Halloween is the UK’s third highest spending festival after Christmas and Easter
- UK’s overall spend: £315 million! (source)
- 2001: only £12 million spent, an increase of 2525% in 10 years!
- Biggest spend: sweets and treats
- Popular costumes include witches, ghosts and zombies, alongside the not-so-scary princesses, pirates…and Frozen characters.
So, whether you celebrate the spooky season or not, have a happy and safe Halloween from everyone at CareCo!