Hallowe’en, or All Hallows, is one of the oldest celebrations in the world and was started 2000 years ago by the Celts who lived in Scotland, Ireland and Northern England. It was originally known by the name Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-in’) and took place on November 1st each year.
It marked the transition from the ‘Season of Sun’ – Summer, to that of ‘Darkness and Cold’ – Winter.
It was believed that evil spirits arrived with the long hours of darkness and that resistance to them was at its lowest on that night. Centuries later the last night of October was transformed by the church into the Eve of All Hallows. It believed that Jesus, the light of the world would conquer darkness and evil.
Fire was very important to the Celts. They believed that light had power over darkness. On Hallowe’en night Celts danced around bonfires in order to bring comfort for lost souls, and ward off the newly arrived evil spirits. One English custom was ‘Lating’ or Lighting the Witches. They made torches from straw and thought that if they burned from 11 pm until midnight they were safe for the season. If the witches blew them out it was a bad omen.
Nuts were also burned on the fires and the way in which they burned forecast faithfulness in sweethearts and marriage.
Jack-o-lanterns, hollowed-out pumpkins with faces carved from one side, were named after a man called Jack. He was a miser and was refused entry to heaven. The devil also turned him away because Jack had played jokes on him. He was forced to walk the earth for the rest of eternity carrying a lamp.
Halloween was also known as Snap Apple Night when apples were hung from strings, and contestants had to eat them without using their hands. Also, apple bobbing was popular and based on an activity played out in the Roman festival in which they remembered Pomana – the goddess of fruit and trees. When the Romans came to Britain they brought this tradition with them and played it out on the same date as Hallowe’en.
The modern tradition of Trick or Treat has its routes in Souling. People would move from house to house begging for Soul Cakes and in return would say prayers for the donors’ deceased relatives. Centuries later it became known as Mischief Night when young boys played jokes on their neighbours and demanded food from nervous householders.
The tradition of dressing up dates back to Celtic times when it was thought that doing so would prevent spirits from recognising you. You may even be mistaken for fellow spirits and left alone.
And girls, did you know that at Hallowe’en, if you place a candle beside a mirror then look into it as you comb your hair or eat an apple, you will see the image of your future husband looking over your shoulder! Also if you place an apple under your pillow when you go to bed you will dream of your future man. That’s not all! Peel and apple so that the peel comes off in one length, then throw it over your shoulder the shape it lands in will be the initial of your future lover!
Halloween was introduced to North America by Irish immigrants following the potato famine in 1845. Commercialisation began about 1905 with the introduction of postcards which were sent between friends to wish them safe. It wasn’t until 1930 that the traditions such as dressing up and Trick or Treat became commonplace.
If you are scared on Halloween night, ring a bell. Spirits don’t like it. If you meet a witch put your clothes on inside out and walk backwards. If you see a sider it will be the soul of a dead relative watching you.
As for me, the only tradition I follow is to drink a pint of Hobgoblin Ale! Cheers!