All Hallow’s Eve, 31st October, is the night when spirits and witches roam free, taunting humans and scaring us out of our wits.
It’s all great fun. And there are all sorts of cool events going on this year in our city.
But where did the tradition begin, and how is it traditionally celebrated in Sussex?
The origins of Halloween
October 31st is the evening before the Christian feast of All Hallows, also called All Saints, when Christians remember the dead, including various martyrs. But it’s strongly influenced by pre-Christian Celtic harvest festivals.
There’s the Gaelic Samhain, which was a fire festival, the ancient Roman feast of Pomona celebrating the goddess of fruits and seeds, and Parentalia, the festival of the dead.
Similar festivals were held by the Welsh Celts, who called it Calan Gaeaf. Cornish Celts called it Kalan Gwav, and the French Celts in Brittany named it Kalan Goanv.
Apparently pagan people thought the barriers between our world and the next were particularly weak at Halloween. So weak that the souls of the dead returned, desperate to feel once more the warmth and light of life.
Spooky! And trick or treating itself has ancient roots too, originating in medieval times from the practice of ‘souling’, where people would sing and say prayers for the dead in return for food.
Modern day All Hallow’s Eve
Very few people these days treat Halloween as a Christian festival. Instead it has followed the USA’s lead in becoming an event almost wholly for children, who love the dressing up, scary make-up, trick or treat sweets and lanterns it involves.
Confined to American immigrant communities until the late 1800s, it gradually assimilated into mainstream society over there, as it did here. By the early 1900s Halloween was already being celebrated across the US by people from every social and religious background.
Today, as you can tell just by poking your head into the shops for weeks beforehand, it has been well and truly commercialised.
The recent trend for zombies and everything zombie-like has breathed new life into the tradition, so expect to see hundreds of zombiefied individuals partying the night away in our city next weekend.
How is Halloween celebrated in Sussex?
In Yorkshire it’s traditional to hang a few twigs of Witch Hazel (also called the Mountain Ash tree) above every window and door to prevent evil spirits getting in.
But what about Sussex? It appears we celebrate much like anywhere else, with no particular regional quirks… unless you know better?
Now in its 43rd year, you’ll find a stunning piece of pumpkin, squash and gourd mural art at Slindon in West Sussex, a tradition kicked off in 1968.
The display attracts tourists from far and wide. This year’s picture is of a wheelbarrow, a basket of fruit and a buzzard-filled sky.