So .. I touched on this in a previous post – Halloween is not a recent American import, and neither are some of the traditions associated with it. I will be doing a couple of blogs regarding festivals and carnival – a personal interest of mine so I hope this interests you.
Halloween was originally celebrated 2,000 years ago as Samhain, where celts would wear costumes and light bonfires to ward off evil spirits. This was a time where the summer changed into winter, crops to see people through the winter gathered, it was a time that the veil between the living and dead would be at its thinnest, spirits would come back and make mischief.
When the Romans invaded the United Kingdom, and stayed around for 400 years, their own festivals, which took place over the same time of year, were slowly incorporated. One was Feralia which was a day in October where the Romans would commemorate the passing of the dead, and another which bore more similarities to a Harvest festival which was the day the Romans would celebrate Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees.
By the 9th Century, the Catholic had moved the observance of All Saints day to 1st november, which carried similar traditions, dressing up, parades and bonfires. It gradually blended, then supplanted the Celtic festival day.
Trick and Treat – where this come from? It is a common misconception that this one of the more annoying aspects of the American import.. but no. This is also one tradition which has evolved over time.
When Celts were celebrating Samhain – worried about spirits returning when the veil between the world separating the living and dead was nearly gone, they would place bowls of food outside to distract the spirits from coming home. They would also wear disguises and masks so that their deceased relatives would not recognise them. When it blended into the All Saint’s celebrations, the poor would knock on doors, and were given ‘soul cakes’ in return for the promise of prayers to be said for the families deceased relatives. This was then taken up by children who would knock on doors, and be given a treat.
Of course, what is interesting to note, is that the dressing up switched from the household to the visitor. But then, when children started to knock on doors, it is an evolution of the celebration. The children are the embodiment of what you are trying to keep out. They are the spirits of the departed, and to appease them you give them a gift of food.
Halloween is a time of ending and beginnings, there are other traditions that would take place, some like, apple bobbing, some suggest is related to the Roman celebration of Pomona (goddess of fruit & trees). But it is a time for looking forward, while ‘winter is coming’ it also means that spring is following soon.
So there are a lot of forward looking traditions associated with 31st October – the celts believed that with the veil between the world of the living and dead being so thin, the Druids could devine and forecast the future. This was important as they would need to predict the winter so that people would be able to prepare.
But then there are also traditions for girls to predict their future husband, whether they would be married. One I remember well, and tried my own hand at, is peeling an apple, the apple peel had to be continuous, and you would throw it over your shoulder. The peel would settle into the initials of your future husband.
Now, I hope I have given you an albeit brief, overview of the history of Halloween and why, I confidently defend against it being an American Import.