What is so appealing about Halloween? Adults and children alike seem to look forward to the 31st October every year. Do you?
According to many scholars, Hallowe’en (or All Hallows' Eve) is on the eve of the Christian feast celebrating All Hallows (or All Saints) and November 2nd being All Souls’ Day. These 3 days (called Hallowmas) were a time for honouring the saints and praying for the souls who had yet to reach heaven. It has also been influenced by western European harvest festivals, and festivals of the dead and may have pagan roots.
Whatever its roots are, Hallowe’en is best known for its dressing up in scary costumes, trick-or-treating in your neighbourhood, carving pumpkins in to Jack o’ lanterns and watching horror films. Adults enjoy attending costume parties while in many areas, children look forward to going door-to-door for treats.
The word Hallowe’en dates back to 1745 Scotland when All Hallows' Eve became shortened to Hallowe’en.
Trick or treating was also called guising in the earlier centuries, when children would dress in disguise going door-to-door asking for food or coins. The costumes have typically been modelled after supernatural figures such as ghosts, skeletons, witches and devils. Some scholars believe this was because it was an opportunity for folk to poke fun at the frightening creatures which had caused them terror. Over time, the selection of costumes has expanded to include celebrities and popular characters from books and film.
In the early 15th century, the custom of souling was known in parts of England. Souling was the practice of baking and sharing cakes for christened souls. Groups of people, primarily children, would go door-to-door during the Hallowmas collecting the soul cakes. This has been the suggestion of the origin of trick-or-treating.
Remarkably, Hallowe’en didn’t reach America until the 19th century when Scottish and Irish immigrants introduced it. It was gradually absorbed into mainstream society and by the first decade of the 20th century it was being celebrated coast to coast by people of all social, racial and religious backgrounds. It is now a highly commercialized venture in America with sales of costumes, decorations, parties, sweets and pumpkins.
The pumpkin, carved in to a Jack o’ Lantern, is one of the early symbols of Hallowe’en. It was typically carried by guisers on All Hallows Eve in order to frighten the evil spirits. The tradition of Ireland and Scotland was to use a carved-out turnip but immigrants to America began to use pumpkins as they were larger and softer for carving. Pumpkins are now a global symbol of Hallowe’en.
Perhaps its commercial significance in the UK hasn’t reached that of America because of its proximity to another UK celebration: Bonfire Night. But, more on that next time...
Let us know if you have any parties planned for Hallowe’en this year. Do your children look forward to trick-or-treating?
Check out our Events Diary for local celebrations.
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