As winter approaches the 31st of October comes around – a date that is known to many as Halloween. A time filled with spooky ghost stories, creative costumes, festivals and trick-or-treating is our theme for this month’s “World Celebration” blog post.
The origin of Halloween (also known as Allhallows Eve) dates back to Celtic times (around 2,000 years ago). The Celts lived on the land known today as Ireland and celebrated a festival called Samhain. Since Samhain was celebrated on the last day of the year it was a type of New Year’s Day, separating the light half of the year (summer) from the dark half (winter). It was also believed to be the time that spirits became visible to mankind and potentially harmful, hence people dressed up to avoid them, which is where the tradition of wearing costumes on Halloween arose from.
Allhallows Eve has many traditions such as:
- Dressing up- a tradition which has its roots from the Celtic culture
- Trick-or-treating- this custom originated in England. On Halloween poor people would visit the houses of rich people to receive a specific type of pastry called a soul cake, in exchange for a prayer for a deceased member of the wealthier family.
- Pumpkin carving- a carved pumpkin is called a Jack-o’-lantern, because of a certain legend. The myth is about a man called Stingy Jack. There are many different versions of this story, however they all end the same way- because Jack was a sinner, he could not go to heaven, and because he tricked the devil, he could not enter hell, which left him wandering between the two planes with nothing but a piece of lit coal inside a carved out turnip that he found.
Halloween has the highest level of popularity in North America and Canada, however it is celebrated in many different countries in many different ways. For example, in Japan the equivalent of Halloween takes place from the 13th to the 15th of July or August (depending on the region). The event’s name is Obon, and it is an annual Buddhist celebration for commemorating one’s ancestors. The most characteristic custom during this celebration are floating lanterns that are put into rivers, creating a spectacular phenomenon.
In Austria, the week from October 30th to November 8th is dedicated to dead souls and is called Seleenwoche. During this time Austrians provide their deceased loved ones with bread, water and light a lamp at night. On the night of November 1st families gather at graveyards and leave lanterns at grave sites of their passed family members.
The most popular variation of Halloween is Dia de Muertos (Dia de Muertos is used more commonly in Mexico, however Dia de los Muertos is its variation in Spain), which means ‘Day of the Dead’. It is celebrated mainly in Mexico, Latin America and Spain. It is a two day celebration, beginning on the 31st of October and ending after the 1st of November. It is an interesting way of looking at loved ones who have passed away- instead of viewing the fact that the person has died and being sad, people who celebrate Dia de Muertos celebrate the life of the deceased and they’re accomplishments by eating, drinking, and throwing colorful parties. On the first day of the ceremony the spirits of children are honored, however on the second day the souls of adults are. The festival is filled with music, color and cempasúchitl– marigold flowers used during the Day of the Dead. But the most characteristic symbol of Dia de Muertos are la Calaveras (skulls).
There are many popular monsters that you can come across during the celebration of Halloween, but did you know that some of their names come from all over the world? For example:
- Mummy – the popular monster usually associated with Egypt gets its name from Arabic: mūmiyā- meaning ‘embalmed body’
- Werewolf – the beast’s name is based on an Old English word wer– which means man, forming the phrase man-wolf
- Frankenstein – Frankenstein isn’t the actual name of the science-fiction monster, but of the scientist who created him. The name has a German origin.
Halloween can be celebrated by people of all ages, thanks to the variety of activities, starting from parties and ending at trick-or-treating. No matter where you are from, it’s always fun dressing up as someone and just being someone else for one night. As the dark nights draw near, have a memorable and spooktacular Halloween!
*Dia de Muertos https://www.nationalgeographic.org/media/dia-de-los-muertos/