Halloween: from a 2,000 year-old tradition to a modern festivity

           The Halloween spirit has touched each and every single one of us. Although not everybody is still fond of this celebration, we all must admit we were once excited at the thought of dressing up in the scariest costume we could find to impress our friends and go trick-or-treating. There was a time we could not wait for the night we would walk around the neighbourhood in the dark, feeling spooky, and being rewarded for it with a ton of candy. It made our adrenaline spike. Now it seems most of us have lost interest in it, considering it too childish. However, what a lot of people do not know, is that Halloween does not limit itself to carving pumpkins and spending lots of money on a costume you will only wear once. It is a 2,000 year-old tradition.

Halloween is the contraction of “All Hallows’ Evening”. It is celebrated every 31st of October to begin the three-day observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the Christian calendar dedicated to remembering the dead. Yet, the origins of Halloween are not Christian, but Celtic. 2,000 years ago, the Celtic people, who lived in Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on the 1st of November. Celts believed that on New Year’s Eve, which they referred to as “Samhain”, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, allowing spirits to travel from one world to the other. Dressing up comes from the ritual of Celts to wear animal skins while they gathered around huge sacred bonfires, where they would burn crops and animals as sacrifices to their gods, in the hope of surviving the cold winter. When the Roman Empire conquered the Celtic territory, Romans combined their commemoration of the passing of the dead in late October with Samhain.  By the 9th century, Christianity had replaced Celtic religion, but some rites had blended together. At this time, “All Saints Day” was also called “All Hallows Day”. The night before it began to be called “All Hallows’ Eve”, and, eventually, “Halloween”.

But how did the United States become the world leading country in Halloween celebration, spending on it approximately 8 billion dollars each year? After the colonization of America, customs of different European ethnic groups meshed together. On Halloween, people would share ghost stories, tell each other’s fortunes and throw parties to celebrate the harvest. In the second half of the 19th century, Irish migrants flooded the United States. With them came a strong influence of Halloween folklore. It included the practice of poor people begging from house to house to receive pastries called “soul cakes” from families. In return, the beggars promised to pray for the families’ dead relatives. With time, this tradition transformed into children's trick-or-treating.  

Nowadays, Halloween has become a superficial festivity, and it is no longer associated with religion like it used to be. Each year, people spend more money on costumes, candy and decoration than the year before. The mystery and superstitions associated with it have remained though - such as ghosts, black cats, breaking mirrors or spilling salt.

This Halloween, do not be afraid to show off your skills and have fun. And even if you do not celebrate it, you can always enjoy the creativity of others and the enthusiasm of little ones.

By Constance Dias

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