With everybody’s favourite horror-inspired holiday just around the corner, we trace the origins of Halloween.
As Halloween approaches, it seems a prudent time to trace the origins of everybody’s favourite horror-inspired holiday!
Whether you will be making outfits for your kids to go trick or treating in, or you just fancy an excuse for a night out, the chances are you have been counting down the days until October 31.
Do you occasionally wonder why we even bother celebrating Halloween? Sure, the Americans love it – but they also call jam “jelly” and don’t like football. Can we trust them?
Halloween is celebrated on the eve of the pagan holiday for the fall equinox in which several Gods are worshiped. The Catholics adapted this tradition and instead of several Gods, they recognize several saints as it is called All saints day.
However some religions still refer to this pagan holiday as evil and refer to it as the day of the Hallows, So the evening before is called All Hallows eve, which over time became Halloween.
Over time children started telling scary stories about this evil day where demons rise up from Hell and kidnap kid
s and hold them for ransom, eventually the parents of the kidnapped children paid the ransom (a treat of some sort) and the children were safely returned. Eventually Kids began dressing up as these demons to demand these treats and this is how Trick or treating started.
Here’s everything you need to know about Halloween…
Samhain (pronounced /ˈsɑːwɪn/ SAH-win or /ˈsaʊ.ɪn/ SOW-in) is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year. It is celebrated from sunset on 31 October to sunset on 1 November, which is nearly halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Along with Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh it makes up the four Gaelic seasonal festivals. It was observed in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Kindred festivals were held at the same time of year in other Celtic lands; for example the Brythonic Calan Gaeaf (in Wales), Kalan Gwav (in Cornwall) and Kalan Goañv (in Brittany).
Halloween, which dates back to 1745, is thought to be linked to the Celtic festival Samhain, and the Brittonic Celtic festivals Calan Gaeaf in Wales, Kalan Gwav in Cornwall and Kalan Goañv in Brittany.
Calan Gaeaf in Wales
Calan Gaeaf is the name of the first day of winter in Wales, observed on 1 November. The night before is Nos Galan Gaeaf, an Ysbrydnos when spirits are abroad. People avoid churchyards, stiles, and crossroads, since spirits are thought to gather there.
“Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness—for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.”
—From “Spirits of the Dead” by Edgar Allan Poe
- Coelcerth: Families build a fire and place stones with their names on it. The person whose stone is missing the next morning would die within the year
- Yr Hwch Ddu Gwta: Legend has it that a fearsome spirit called Yr Hwch Ddu Gwta took the form of a tail-less black sow and roamed the countryside with a headless woman – children would rush home early
- Eiddiorwg Dalen: A few leaves of ground ivy is thought to give you the power to see hags. For prophetic dreams a boy should cut ten ivy leaves, throw away one and put the rest under his head before he sleeps. A girl should take a wild rose grown into a hoop, creep through it three times, cut it in silence, and go to bed with it under her pillow
- Teiliwr: In Glamorgan tailors were associated with witchcraft. They supposedly possessed the power to ‘bewitch’ anybody if they wished
- Twco Fala/fale: Ducking apples
Kalan Gwav in Cornwall
Kalan Gwav, meaning first day of winter, or Nos Kalan Gwav, meaning eve of the first day of winter and Dy’ Halan Gwav, meaning day of the first day of winter) is a Cornish festival that was traditionally celebrated on the night of 31st October, as well as the following day time, and known elsewhere as Hallowe’en.
The festival itself seems to have pre-Christian origins similar to most celebrations on this date, however in Cornwall it was popularly linked to St Allen or Arlan a little-known Cornish Saint.
Allantide is also known as Allan Night and Allan Day, possibly in reference to the Cornish. The origins of the name Allantide probably stem from the same sources as Hollantide (Wales and the Isle of Man) and Hallowe’en itself.
One of the most important parts of this festival was the giving of Allan apples, large glossy red apples that were highly polished, to family and friends as tokens of good luck. Allan apple markets used to be held throughout West Cornwall in the run up to the feast.
The following is a description of the festival as it was celebrated in Penzance at the turn of the 19th century:
“The shops in Penzance would display Allan apples, which were highly polished large apples. On the day itself, these apples were given as gifts to each member of the family as a token of good luck. Older girls would place these apples under their pillows and hope to dream of the person whom they would one day marry. A local game is also recorded where two pieces of wood were nailed together in the shape of a cross. It was then suspended with 4 candles on each outcrop of the cross shape. Allan apples would then be suspended under the cross. The goal of the game was to catch the apples in your mouth, with hot wax being the penalty for slowness or inaccuracy.”
Bugul Noz on Halloween Night in Brittany
Though hideous in appearance, he was benevolent in nature. The Bugul Noz roamed the woodlands of his native Brittany. Sometimes known as ‘Night Shepherd’ because of the care he took of the animals of the forest. On this cold crisp Halloween night of 31 October he felt strangely secure.
This was the night; the only night really, that he could show himself in public. The throngs of people that went to fancy dress parties on this night of Halloween (Kalan Goañv); the old Celtic New Year, made it easy for him. Dressed as they were in grotesque costumes, they vied to see who could look the most frightening.
Fake blood, fangs, dyed hair, make up, masks, shrouds; the more outlandish, deathlike and appalling the dress, the more admired by everyone.
Yes-this was the night that Bugul Noz could feel comfortable with his own appearance. Because the people he met did not know that this ugly looking creature was entirely natural. Bugul Noz did not need a costume and make-up in order to scare people.
The word Halloween is taken from All Hallows’ Evening and transformed into All Hallows’ Eve or – more commonly – Hallowe’en.
Samhain saw the Celts of Britain, Ireland and France celebrate the new year on November 1.
That day also marked the end of the harvest and the start of the winter months – so, naturally, it was associated with death.
Why do we dress up then?
It was a superstitious period during this time, where the worlds of the dead and the living were seen as somehow intrinsically linked.
The realm of the dead was thought to be fluid on the day before the new year – or All Hallows’ Eve, to me and you – so it was a common concern among ordinary folk that they would somehow become corrupted by spirits from beyond the grave.
As such, people would wear costumes to ward off the aforementioned ghoulish spirits.
What’s with the trick or treating?
The tradition of going from door to door receiving food already existed in the UK in the form of “souling”, where children and poor people would sing and say prayers for the dead in return for cakes.
William Shakespeare mentions it in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona, where one character accuses another of “whining like a beggar at Hallowmas”.
Nevertheless, trick-or-treating does not seem to have become a widespread practice until the 1930s.