When you think of Halloween do you think of pumpkins, trick or treat, scary creatures and all things ghoulish?
I certainly do but where does it all come from?
We are influenced by our surroundings, the merchandise available, the first snaps of cold air and the darker nights, so what about the origins of Halloween itself?
The origins of Halloween itself
The word Hallow is the same word for “holy” and “e’en” comes from the word evening. The world Halloween is a shortened version of “All Hallows eve” or holy evening and for Christians it marks the day before All Saints Day. The saints who are recognised on the 1st November is where it all began.
Halloween has its roots in the ancient Celtic tribes when on October 31, the tribes would celebrate the festival of Samhain which marked the end of harvest and the beginning of Winter. During this festival, Celts believed the souls of the dead, including ghosts, goblins, and witches, returned to mingle with the living. To scare away the evil spirits, people would wear masks and light bonfires which sounds familiar with the traditions of today.
When the Romans conquered the Celts, they added their own touches to the Samhain festival, such as making centrepieces out of apples and nuts for Pomona who was the Roman goddess of the orchards. The Romans also played apple bobbing and drank cider from the harvest apples, again similar traditions that can be enjoyed today.
Every year on November 2, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates All Souls Day. The purpose of these feasts is to remember those who have died, whether they are officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as saints or not. It is a celebration of the “communion of saints,” which reminds Christians that the church is not bound by space or time. The memories of others will remain in the lives of the next generation and hopefully the good deeds that they did will be a having a positive effect on those remembering.
Custom going door to door
Many of the customs we now associate with Halloween are also come from ancient celebrations. You are probably familiar with the current custom of going door to door collecting treats, this custom is also found in the Samhain festival where groups of farmers would go door-to-door around their village collecting food and materials for a communal feast and bonfire. Those who gave were promised prosperity; those who did not received threats of bad luck. When an influx of Irish Catholic immigrants came to the United States in the 1800s, the custom of trick-or-treating came with them similar to this tradition came with them.
Pumpkin carving and leaving it in the Porch is a tradition started by the Irish, except originally it was a turnip. The hollowed-out turnip would have a light inside to scare off evil spirits and again when the Irish came to America they used the then unknown vegetable pumpkin as a larger substitute for the smaller turnip. I remember distinctly as a young girl carving out a turnip – the promise of a Pumpkin was only found in photographs and realised for me much later as a “grown-up”.
Christianity and Halloween
Christians today don’t celebrate Halloween but it is hard not to succumb in some ways to the secular influences of this festival that are seen everywhere and offer an exciting chance to get dressed up and go out into the community – who wouldn’t want to do that? Many Christians today offer an alternative to these secular traditions for the children and their families by holding a party at the church and using this as an opportunity to come together, have fun and to learn about their faith. Christians all over the world will be looking forward to All Saints Day which is reserved for overt participation. Light parties, apple-bobbing, trick or treat and costumes worn give everyone a chance to get involved; what you do it is up to you.
A chance to continue to enjoy learning about the surrounding world as the Western world focuses on Halloween by thinking is it hypocritical to still participate in Halloween activities where the origins are steeped in Christian belief if you are not a Christian?
To support and encourage understanding of consequences of behaviour and action remember that Halloween activities for some can give them an excuse to disregard normal standards of behaviour. Is it OK to lower your standards of behaviour for just one night? What would you do if you saw someone who was not behaving in an acceptable way.?.
Halloween events like “Trick or Treat” involve being part of a local community. What could you willingly do which has a positive impact on your local community?
Appreciate cultural influences by asking yourself are Halloween events and activities in the UK becoming too Americanised? How much notice should we spend on other cultures and traditions?
Discuss with your kids, comment below and feel free to suggest other topics to talk about.
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PD/SMSC Educational Consultant