Although Halloween is not an official holiday, it is at least another good reason to have a party. Where did the feast of frightening costumes and scary pumpkins come from?
In Anglo-American culture (especially in the USA, Canada, Britain, Ireland and Australia), Halloween is celebrated on October 31st. The name was created by the abbreviation of "All Hallows' Eve". The traditional Christian feast of All Saints is celebrated on November 1 and is followed on November 2 by All Souls' Day.
Halloween came from the Celtic feast called Samhain, named after the Celtic god of the dead Samhain. This holiday took place exactly between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. It was a celebration of the arrival of winter and also the Celtic New Year.
The Celts believed that it is also the day when the world of the dead is closest to the world of living - so the souls of dead can come back to us for one night.
Celebrations of Samhain took place mostly at night - fires were lit in the hills to help guide the souls for them to spend the night together with the living. Fires also helped to defend from the evil ghosts or souls. Because of it people also wore scary costumes and masks. Dummies (symbols of the ending year) were burned, and in front of houses, people left apples or plates with food for wandering souls. Souls of deceased ancestors were greeted by carved pumpkins, beets or turnips with a candle inside.
The official form of the feast was determined by Pope Boniface IV. (550-615), who created the Christian feast of All Saints in 609 (also All Hallows' Eve). It was the distortion of this English designation that gave name to Halloween. The traditional spirit of celebration is preserved mainly in Ireland, from where it came to America in the 17th century thanks to Irish immigrants. Its commercialization began around 1900 and trick-or-treating appeared around 1950.
On Halloween in 1835, the Dublin Penny Journal published a long story on "Jack-o'-the-Lantern". One old Irish folk tale narrates the story of Jack - a lazy but shrewd blacksmith who used a cross to trap Satan. One story says that Jack tricked Satan into climbing a tree, and when he was there, Jack quickly placed crosses around the tree trunk, so Satan couldn't get down. Jack set Satan free after he agreed to never take his soul. Many years later, Jack died but his life had been too sinful for him to go to heaven but Satan had also promised not to take his soul. Jack had nowhere to go so Satan mockingly tossed him a burning coal, to light his way to a place where he could rest. The coal was too hot, so Jack carved out one of his turnips (which were his favorite food) and put the coal inside it. He became known as "Jack of the Lantern".
The tradition of using pumpkins came from Americans. Pumpkins are a species native to America, in addition it ripens in the autumn and it was easier to use for production of Halloween lamps because it is softer and easily carved.
In Canada, children trick-or-treat from house to house. Canadians also carve pumpkins and decorate their houses with dry corn leaves.
Ireland, the birthplace of this holiday, really enjoys celebrating Halloween. Children in scary costumes go trick-or-treating. If they don't get sweets, they rub toothpaste or throw raw eggs on the house door. Adults celebrate this holiday in typical Irish pubs with a quality drink.
In Belgium, saints are worshiped by lighting candles on the window sill. In some parts of Europe (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland) a more traditional concept of the All Saints' Eve feast is favored. On the other hand in Germany, Sweden and Hungary, there are more and more Halloween parties every year, which are encouraged by American horror movies.
The feast of Día de los Muertos is similar to All Saints' Eve. During the holiday, people think back about the dead. Mexicans believe that the dead will join the living during this celebration. The symbol of this holiday is La Calavera Catrina (Elegant Skull), which is recognized almost everywhere.
In France, Halloween is not celebrated as a traditional holiday. For French people it is just a commercial holiday. You can find Halloween decorations and candies in shops, but the habit of trick-or-treating did not take root. It is usually celebrated in costumes and people of all ages go to parties or clubs with friends.
In China, candles and fires are lit in houses and on the streets to illuminate the path of ghosts. It is believed that ghosts which have died by violent deaths, drowning, or injury, dangerously wander among people and the candlelight shows them the way to heaven.
One radio station in Sri Lanka is running a competition for the scariest Halloween recipes and the scariest cries of death.
The Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos or Día de los Muertos) is a Mexican celebration in honor of the dead. It is celebrated between October 31 and November 2. It is also celebrated in other Latin-American countries and places with Mexican or Latin-American populations. In 1993, UNESCO declared the Mexican Day of the Dead an "intangible heritage of mankind."
The Day of the Dead is a colorful festival that celebrates the afterlife of those who have left the human world. Mexicans visit cemeteries, decorate graves and spend time there in the presence of the souls of deceased friends and family.
For some communities, it is not unusual to spend all night in the cemetery. They organize parties and picnics with live music.
They also make intricately decorated altars in their homes to welcome good spirits. The altar also includes the famous sugar skulls, often with the name of the person on top. Another necessity is Pan de Muertos, a special bread made for this feast with cempasuchil (marigold), which blooms at this time of year and gives the altar a specific scent.
According to Aztec mythology, the adult dead go to another world, named Mictlan, where the Lord and Lady of Death rule. The world of deceased children is named Chichihuacuauhco, and trees that flow with milk grow there.
People believe that once a year the dead return to the world of living to talk with their relatives and friends. The souls of children who have died arrive at midnight on October 31 (which is called Little Angels Day), adults arrive the next day.
Mexicans create altars inside their homes to celebrate and remember the lives of friends and relatives who have passed. They decorate it with bright orange marigolds (their scent help attract souls to the altar), painted or sugar skulls (which represent the people who have passed), flickering candles, a soft and sweet bread called Pan de Muerto, salt ( to purify the souls) and colorful paper cutouts. You can also see photographs of the dead. Up until a few years ago, altars were done predominately by older members of a community, but these days, younger generations are also taking part to help keep the tradition alive.
🎬 TIP for cold evening: Watch Coco (2017, Pixar)
Do you like Halloween? We do! Decorate your house and do not forget to take photos. You can use them for inviting your friends to your Halloween party next year, use them as a present for your family and friends or just to keep your memories of this great feast.
How to decore your home? You can cook Halloween scary dishes. 🎃
Pumpkins at your door.. or everywhere!
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