The Story Behind Halloween – The Night of the Dead

By Smitii Nayak.

It’s that time of the year again, the only day on which you can see little goblins or vampires running around, going from house to house with little plastic jack-o-lanterns filled to the brim with candy. It’s the day of Halloween, otherwise known as All Hallows’ Eve, and today you will be surrounded by chants of ‘Trick or Treat’, recited by children and adults all around the world who enjoy this festival  every year on the 31st of October.

Actually being the eve of the Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day, Halloween  marks the start of Allhallowtide, a celebration that is committed to reminiscing the departed – hallows (saints), martyrs, family and friends – which continues for three days. The whole festival started off as a Celtic pagan festival called Samhain which celebrated the end of the harvest season which was celebrated on November 1.

Samhain was one of the four widely observed seasonal festivals of the Gaels, celebrated across Britain, Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man which were pagan countries in that period. The Gaels believed that on the night before Samhain, the line between the living and dead became close to non-existent resulting in ghosts descending to the surface of the Earth. The ghosts were believed to damage the recently harvested crops and to stop and appease the ghosts, the people let food and wine on their doorsteps. Every time they left their house that night, they wore masks to fit in among the other ghosts.

The Gaels didn’t actually fear the ghosts. Instead, annually, on the day of Samhain druids could predict the future and make prophecies which was vital in this community dependent on the unpredictable natural world and provided some comfort about the upcoming winter. People would wear costumes like animal skins and masks and have huge bonfire sacrifices. The Christian church turned Samhain to All Saints Day which turned to All Hollow’s Day in  the eighth century. Now the beginning of the All Hallows’ Day is observed as the famous Halloween.

It is not only the idea behind Halloween that has a story explaining it but most of the activities like trick-or-treating, souling and guising adored by the masses originated from different cultures and practices. Most of these practices originated in medieval Britain. On November 2, also known as All Souls’ Day, the poor and needy would beg for small pastry cakes called soul cakes and would pray for the deceased of the respective families in return. This ritual came to be known as souling. In the medieval tradition of guising, young people would accept food, wine and money after dressing up in costumes and would sing, recite poetry, tell jokes or provide other forms of entertainment to whosoever gave them anything. In the nineteenth century, the Irish and Scottish immigrants in America revived these traditions in the form of the Halloween we celebrate today. The result was trick-or-treating.

Initially, the ‘trick’ part of trick-or-treating was enjoyed enormously by the people. But the beginning of the 1950’s marked the start of Halloween being celebrated as a family-friendly, children-focused form in a move away from pranks, ghosts and the dead. Today, the 31 of October is a day for haunted houses and parties with family and friends.


 

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