25 October 2017

Posted by Discount Insurance on Wednesday, October 25, 2017 No comments
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The Halloween season is upon us! It is time to start looking for your Halloween outfits, stocking up on sweets and carving out your pumpkins. Although here in the UK we might not celebrate Halloween as enthusiastically as in the USA, it is still as much a part of the autumn season. But many don’t know about the origins of Halloween, celebrations which go back to Celtic traditions.


What is Halloween?

Halloween or Hallowe’en (a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening) is also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints’ Eve and is a spooky celebration observed every year in a number of countries on 31st October – the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day also known as All Saints’ Day.

Halloween as we know and experience it today has originated in the Celtic fringes of Britain and was adapted over the years by Christian traditions and immigrants’ conventions.


What is the story behind celebrating Halloween?

The origin of Halloween is disputed. There are both Pagan and Christian practices, which have impacted the celebrations and allowed it to evolve into what it is today.

Some believe Halloween originates from Samhain, a Celtic pagan festival meaning ‘Summer’s End’ which celebrated the end of harvest season.

Gaels believed this was a time when the walls between our world and the next became thin allowing spirits to pass, come back to life on the day and damage their crops. Therefore during a feast they set places at the dinner table to appease and welcome the spirits. Gaels would also offer food and drink as well as light bonfires to ward off the evil spirits.

Trick or treating and dressing up came from the 16th century in Ireland, Scotland and Wales where people went door-to-door in costume asking for food in exchange for a poem or song. Many people dressed up as souls of the dead and were understood to be protecting themselves from the spirits by impersonating them. 

Christian origins of the holiday are connected to the feast of All Hallows on the 1st November, which was set in the eighth century in the efforts of the Church to stamp out pagan celebrations. Christians honour saints and pray for souls of their relatives who passed away and those who have not yet reached heaven.


Where does trick-or-treating come from?

The original phrase was first used in America in 1972. The traditions were brought over to America by immigrants while guising gave way to pranks in exchange for sweet treats.

During World War II there was a short supply of sweets and sugar therefore after the war ended Halloween became a widespread holiday revolving around kids with newly built suburban areas being a safe place for children to roam free.

The costumes people wore became a lot more adventurous in Victorian times influenced by literature and in particular the gothic themes – dressing as bats and ghosts or what seemed as exotic and different like an Egyptian pharaoh. As times moved on, costumes became influenced by pop culture.


What has Halloween got to do with dressing up?

The tradition of dressing up again has to do with the Celts, they dressed up in white with blackened faces during Samhain to trick the evil spirits which they believed would be roaming the earth before All Saints’ Day on November 1st.

By the 11th century this had been adapted by the Church, again in order to stamp out pagan celebrations. The Church introduced a tradition called ‘souling’  which is seen as being the origin of trick-or-treating as children would go door-to-door asking for soul cakes in exchange for praying for the souls of friends and relatives. Traditionally children went dressed up as angels, demons or saints. The soul cakes given to the children were sweet, with a cross marked on top and when they were eaten by the children they represented a soul being freed from purgatory.

A historian at York University, Nicholas Rogers says that when people prayed for the dead at Hallow Mass, they dressed up. In particular when praying for fertile marriages "the boy choristers in the churches dressed up as virgins. So there was a certain degree of cross dressing in the actual ceremony of All Hallow’s Eve.”

In the 19th century souling became guising or mumming where children would offer songs, poems or jokes instead of prayer for money or fruit.


What do pumpkins have to do with all of this?

This is another Celt tradition originating from the Samhain festival. Gaels would carve turnips in order to ward off spirits and stop fairies from settling in their houses.

The influx of Irish immigrants to North America in the 1840s couldn’t find any turnips to carve, as was the tradition, so they used the more readily available pumpkin, carving into it scary faces.

By the 1920s the pumpkin carving was widespread across America and Halloween was a big holiday with dressing up and trick-or-treating. The modern American name Jack O’Lantern on the other hand comes from the folkloric story of Stingy Jack who fooled the devil into buying him a drink. He was not let into heaven or hell and when he passed away the devil threw him a burning ember which he kept in a turnip.


 Most peculiar traditions from around the world:

Ireland – the tradition of barmbrack, a fruitcake featuring muslin-wrapped treats inside that is said to predict the future of the eater. If the cloth contains a ring, it means romance is in the cards. A coin indicates wealth is on its way. A thimble means you're doomed to never marry.

Austria - you are expected to leave bread and water out and keep the lights on after you go to bed during the full week of All Saint’s Week between 30th October and 8th November to happily welcome dead souls back to Earth during the one time of the year they can visit the mortal world.

Germany - this tradition is also about believing spirits return on Halloween night. Rather than leaving out bread and water like in Austria, Germans put away any knives so the spirits don’t hurt themselves.

Czechoslovakia – chairs are left out for each deceased family member by the fire on Halloween night alongside chairs for each living one.

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