ANCIENT CELEBRATIONS ON OCTOBER 31
Around 300BC the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon people celebrated the last day of their year on the 31 October. This was the occasion for the Celtic festival of Samhain (Celtic: “End of Summer”), and was one of the most important and sinister festivals of the Celtic year. The world of the gods was believed to be visible to mankind, and the gods played many tricks on mortals. It was a time of danger and fear, full of supernatural episodes. Sacrifices were thought to be vital for without them the Celts believed they could not survive the perils of the season or counteract the activities of the gods. Huge bonfires were set on hilltops to frighten away evil spirits. Sacrifices were often made on these fires to keep the gods happy.
The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day, and ghosts, witches, hobgoblins, black cats and demons were said to be roaming around. Many peasants left treats on their kitchen tables to please these spirits.
Halloween was thought to be the most favourable time for divinations concerning marriage, luck, health and death. It was the only day on which the help of the devil was invoked for such purposes.
All Hallows’ Eve used to be a holy or hallowed evening observed on October 31, the eve of All Saints’ Day. For Christians it was a time for family to get together in preparation for the remembrance of all saints, on Nov 1. All Saints day was first celebrated in 610AD.
CHANGE IN FOCUS
The pagan observances influenced the Christian festival of All Hallows’ Eve, celebrated on the same date. Gradually, the day became a secular observance, and the name ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ (‘eve of all the holy ones’) became shortened to Halloween. Many customs and practices developed. In Scotland, young people met together for ‘games’ to find out who would marry during the year and in what order.
Many Halloween customs have become games played by children.
THE SPREAD TO AMERICA
Immigrants to the US, particularly the Irish, introduced secular Halloween customs that became popular in the late 19th century. Poor behaviour on this occasion included overturning sheds and outhouses and breaking windows and damage to property was sometimes severe.
A common symbol of Halloween is the jack-o’-lantern (a name possibly derived from the night watchman).
Small children are the most likely to walk around pretending to be evil spirits, threatening harm (“trick”) unless they are given favours to keep them happy (“treats”) – hence the phrase, “Trick or treat”. However, some teens still make use of the traditions and utilise the event to play tricks on people’s property.
Modern witches celebrate eight special days and Halloween is the most special.