Halloween also known as All Hallows’ Eve, is a yearly celebration observed in western countries including Ireland, the USA, Canada, Puerto Rico and the UK as well as Australia and New Zealand on October 31, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day. It initiates the triduum of Hallowmas ( All Hallows’ Eve 31st Oct, All Saints Day 1st Nov and All Souls Day 2nd Nov ) , the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers.
According to many scholars, All Hallows’ Eve is a Christianised feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest festivals, with possible pagan roots, particularly the Gaelic Samhain, which represents the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darker months of Winter. Other academics maintain that it originated independently of Samhain and has solely Christian roots.
Wikipedia says the modern imagery of Halloween comes from many sources, including Christian eschatology ( the study of humankind as described in the Bible ) , national customs, works of Gothic and horror literature (such as the novels Frankenstein and Dracula) and classic horror films (such as Frankenstein and The Mummy). Imagery of the skull, a reference to Golgotha, in the Christian tradition, serves as “a reminder of death and the transitory quality of human life” and is consequently found in memento mori and vanitas compositions; skulls have therefore been commonplace in Halloween, which touches on this theme.
Traditionally, the back walls of churches are “decorated with a depiction of the Last Judgment, complete with graves opening and the dead rising, with a heaven filled with angels and a hell filled with devils,” a motif that has permeated the observance of this triduum. One of the earliest works on the subject of Halloween is from Scottish poet John Mayne, who, in 1780, made note of pranks at Halloween; “What fearfu’ pranks ensue!”, as well as the supernatural associated with the night, “Bogies” (ghosts), influencing Robert Burns’ Halloween 1785. Elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins, corn husks and scarecrows, are also prevalent. Homes are often decorated with these types of symbols around Halloween. Halloween imagery includes themes of death, evil, and mythical monsters. Black, orange, and sometimes purple are Halloween’s traditional colours.
In Scotland and Ireland, guising – children disguised in costume going from door to door for food or coins – is a traditional Halloween custom, and is recorded in Scotland at Halloween in 1895 where masqueraders in disguise carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips, visit homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money. The practice of Guising at Halloween in North America is first recorded in 1911, where a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario reported children going “guising” around the neighbourhood. We were always really careful though not to make a nuisance of ourselves as my Great Nan never liked all the door knocking that went on at Halloween.
The earliest known use in print of the term “trick or treat” appears in 1927, from Blackie, Alberta, Canada:
Hallowe’en provided an opportunity for real strenuous fun. No real damage was done except to the temper of some who had to hunt for wagon wheels, gates, wagons, barrels, etc., much of which decorated the front street. The youthful tormentors were at back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word “trick or treat” to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.
Because in the Northern Hemisphere Halloween comes in the wake of the yearly apple harvest, candy apples (known as toffee apples outside North America), caramel or taffy apples are common Halloween treats made by rolling whole apples in a sticky sugar syrup, sometimes followed by rolling them in nuts.
One custom that persists in modern-day Ireland is the baking (or more often nowadays, the purchase) of a barmbrack (Irish: báirín breac), which is a light fruitcake, into which a plain ring, a coin and other charms are placed before baking. It is said that those who get a ring will find their true love in the ensuing year. This is similar to the tradition of king cake at the festival of Epiphany.
I’m surprised there aren’t more musical connections with Halloween I must try to do some research into this, if any of you can suggest any songs then I would be grateful for your comments and contributions 🙂
Thanks to Pascal Barnier who sent this picture over to me just in time to make my blog post 🙂
Finally, I was thinking of changing my Gravatar picture to a more Autumnal one, what do you think? I used the picture as the feature header and I would love to hear your opinions.