Homes, streets and parties
Halloween how we know it today is the result of old traditions merging with popular customs developed mainly in the 20th century. Many of us have followed at least once the tradition of giving candy to children who knock at our doors, or even carved pumpkins only to light candles inside them to decorate our homes. Although these are only a few from many traditions held during Halloween, the fact is that many times we follow traditions without knowing where these come from.
The origins of Halloween go back to the old Celtic calendar when early Celtic tribes split the year into a light half and a dark half. Right in the middle of the two, the Celts held their ancient holiday Samhain (pronounced sawin) which introduced the dark half of the year. On the night of October 31 the Celts celebrated their Samhain harvest festival with bonfires to welcome the new cycle.
With winter arriving, days got colder and shorter and crops could fail to deliver enough food to live through the winter. For early tribes the harvest was a matter of life and death and for this reason, some scholars agree that not knowing whether or not one would have enough supplies to last through the winter, could be the explanation to Halloween's nightmarish quality.
However Samhain also marked a moment when time and space became permeable. This meant for early Celts that spirits not only from the dead but also from the past and other realities could enter into our reality and that humans could also access other realms and get lost in them. It was a time when the veil separating reality from the paranormal was at its thinnest and where the living and the dead could commingle. This belief set the roots of all our modern-day Halloween celebrations.
Later in history Christianity would contribute to the creation of the name Halloween. With the Catholic Church's establishment of All Saints' Day (All Hallows' Day) on November 1 in an attempt to suppress the pagan Samhain celebrations, Samhain itself became known with time as All Hallows Evening or the evening before All Hallows' Day. The name shortened into All Hallows Even which in return ended in its shortest form as Halloween.
In addition the Church also declared November 2 as All Souls' Day, a day when people were meant to offer prayers for souls trapped in Purgatory (a place/state between heaven and hell). This started a custom in the Middle Ages where beggars would go from door to door asking for soul cakes or spice cakes filled with raisins or currants. In return for this treat, the beggars would offer prayers for souls trapped in Purgatory to help them release from their painful state and rise to Heaven. This old tradition is the origin of the present-day trick-or-treating.
The traditions of Halloween departed from Ireland and Scotland into North America with the mass transatlantic immigration during the 19th century. Later on, with the popularization of Halloween in the United States and Canada, the holiday started to expand into Latin America, Australia and New Zealand thanks to radio and television. In the past few decades Halloween has continued to increase its popularity and it is now celebrated in many European countries, Japan and other parts or East Asia. Typically the celebrations include wearing costumes and going to parades and parties.
For some a day related to evil spirits or simply a time for retailers to increase their revenue that deserves no attention, for others a time of fun and enjoyment, Halloween serves as a common denominator for the young and not so young communities in many countries. Beyond our opinions about this holiday and whether or not people should celebrate it, the fact is that Halloween has offered and will still offer people a chance to gather and have fun while playing to be someone else for one day.
October 31: A woman wearing red contact lenses at a Halloween event in Kawasaki, Japan
October 31: Dancing on a chiva bus during Halloween in Colombia, South America
Background by Feelgrafix: Halloween Pumpkin Wallpaper