Halloween is right around the corner, and October is filled with pumpkin picking, costume designing, and preparing for an evening of fun. But have you ever wondered why we celebrate the spooky event? And what exactly is Halloween?
Halloween is an exciting time of year for all ages, especially children, as it encourages us to get creative and have fun with our family and friends. Not to mention, all the Halloween food you get to tuck into! So whether kids can go trick or treating on Halloween 2020 or not, there will always be plenty to do.
But you might be wondering why we celebrate Halloween on 31st October, and where these traditions originally came from. If you’re curious, scroll down and we’ll answer all your frequently asked questions…
Why do we celebrate Halloween?
Halloween originates from pagan festivals held around the end of October in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. People believed that during this time, the spirits of dead people could come ‘alive’ and walk among the living.
In the modern day, we follow a lot of the spooky traditions associated with Halloween such as wearing costumes, carving pumpkins, and enjoying tasty food. In the UK it’s become popular to have parties to celebrate this event, which is a great opportunity to get together for fun and Halloween games.
Halloween is celebrated all over the world, with many cultures having their own take on the spooky time of year. For example, in Mexico, they have an annual The Day of the Dead (el Día de los Muertos) festival which runs between October 31st – November 2nd. During this celebration, Mexican families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives for a reunion that includes food, drink and celebration.
Meanwhile, in Japan, there’s a large parade for those wanting to celebrate Halloween. The most famous one is Kawasaki Halloween Parade, which has a different theme each year to encourage others to dress up. There’s even a reward for the best costume! For Japanese people, the costume is arguably the biggest part of their Halloween celebrations.
And in Czechoslovakia, chairs are placed by the fireside on Halloween night. There is one chair for each living family member and one for each family member’s spirit, and this is their way of honouring the deceased during the Halloween period.
What is the true meaning of Halloween?
Many people believe that Halloween as we now know it evolved from an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain. The word Samhain is a Gaelic word meaning ‘end of the summer’. This is a very important festival in the pagan calendar as it marks the Feast of the Dead.
But although this might sound scary, death is not feared by pagans and is instead accepted as a part of life, and they use this time to respect and honour the dead. During celebrations, spirits of the recently departed are invited to take part in the feast. There’s also dressing up and dancing, and bonfires are usually lit.
In addition to this, Samhain was a way to welcome the harvest in the ‘darker time of the year’, and could be similar to the harvest festivals we’re familiar with today.
Is Halloween a religious celebration?
In Christianity, Halloween is known as All Hallows’ Eve. It’s the day before All Hallows’ Day, also known as All Saints’ Day. The name derives from the Old English ‘hallowed’ meaning holy or sanctified, and it’s believed this is where we got the modern day name of Halloween from.
The Western Church now observes All Saints’ Day on 1st November, after Pope Gregory III dedicated a chapel to all the saints in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome in the 8th Century. Traditionally, the Church held a vigil on All Hallows’ Eve where worshippers would prepare themselves with prayers and fasting prior to the feast day itself.
Why do we wear Halloween costumes?
Halloween costumes are believed to be inspired by Samhain, as dressing up was a key part of the festivities for pagans. Traditionally, Celts would dress as animals and monsters so that fairies were not tempted to kidnap them, as they believed the barriers between worlds were broken during the celebration.
Masks and costumes were also used to trick spirits into thinking that they were one of them, and was used as a form of protection so they could enjoy the festival without fear. In modern times, we have plenty of great costumes to choose from.
Some people choose to go as iconic horror characters, others go as pagan symbols like cats, witches and monsters. It’s a great time of year to get creative and think about what you want to go as!
Why do we go trick or treating?
Trick or Treat might be a strange concept, but it was very common for children to do this during Samhain. It’s believed that trick or treating evolved from a ritual where people dressed in spooky costumes, performed dances and received treats to appease the evil spirits.
By the time Christianity had spread into Britain, a new practice had developed. During this time, poor people would visit the houses of the rich and receive pastries called soul cakes, in exchange for promises to pray for the homeowners’ dead relatives.
In Scotland and Ireland, young people would visit houses and sing, recite a poem or perform another sort of ‘trick’ before receiving a treat of nuts, fruit or sometimes coins. This is likely where the term ‘trick or treating’ came from, as we know it in the modern day.
Why do we carve pumpkins?
Pumpkins are arguably the most iconic symbol of Halloween, but why did we start carving them? Well, it’s believed to originate from an Irish myth about a man named Stingy Jack, who tricked the Devil for his own monetary gain. When Jack died, he was denied entry to both Heaven and Hell, so was sentenced to roam the Earth for all eternity.
People were frightened of Jack’s wandering soul, so they’d carve scary faces into turnips to scare him away. However, when Irish immigrants moved to the US, they started to use pumpkins as they were native to the country. The story of Stingy Jack is why Americans often call carved pumpkins Jack o’Lanterns.