The Origins of Halloween Throughout the World
Celtic: The ancient
Celtic (Irish, Scottish, Welsh) festival called Samhain is
considered by many to be a predecessor of our contemporary Halloween.
Samhain was the New Year's Day of the Celts, celebrated on 1 November. It
was also a day of the dead, a time when it was believed that the souls of those
who had died during the year were allowed access to the land of the dead. It
was related to the season: by Samhain, the crops should be harvested and
animals brought in from the distant fields.
beliefs and customs associated with Samhain, most notable
that night was the time of the wandering dead, the practice of leaving
offerings of food and drink to masked and costumed revelers, and the
lighting of bonfires, continued to be practiced on 31 October, known as the
Eve of All Saints, the Eve of All Hallows, or Hallow Even. It is the glossing of
the name Hallow Even that has given us the name Hallowe'en.
The spirits of
Samhain, once thought to be wild and powerful, were now said
to be something worse: evil. The church maintained that the gods and
goddesses and other spiritual beings of traditional religions were diabolical
deceptions, that the spiritual forces that people had experienced were real,
but they were manifestations of the Devil, the Prince of Liars, who misled
people toward the worship of false idols. Thus, the customs associated with
Halloween included representations of ghosts and human skeletons -symbols
of the dead- and of the devil and other malevolent, evil creatures, such as
witches were said to be.
England: Guy Fawkes
Day, 5 November, is celebrated in ways reminiscent of
Halloween. Guy Fawkes was accused of attempting to blow up the Houses of
Parliament on that day in 1605. He was apprehended, hung, drawn, and
quartered. On 5 November 1606, the same Parliament declared the fifth of
November a day of public thanksgiving. The act of treason was viewed as
part of a 'popish' -that is, Roman Catholic- plot against the Protestant
government. Because Holloween was associated with the Catholic church
calendar, its importance diminished, but many of its traditions shifted to the
annual commemoration of the death of Guy Fawkes.
Today, for weeks
in advance of 5 November, English children prepare effigies
of Fawkes, dummies known as Guys. They set them out on street corners and
beg passers-by for "a penny for the Guy". The eve of the fifth is know as
Mischief Night, when children are free to play pranks on adults, just as 30
October, the night before Halloween, is know as Mischief Night in many
areas of the U.S. On the night of 5 November, the Guys are burned in
bonfires, just as the ancient Celts burned bonfires on 1 November.
the Western world, 1 May, like 1 November, is a day
of traditional significance. The 30th of April, the eve of May 1, is in areas of
Germany, particularly the Harz Mountains, Walpurgisnacht, or the eve of St.
Walpurgis Day. Witches are supposed to be especially active this day, as are
spirits of the dead and demon creatures from the nether world.
care of the dead through prayers and sacrifices were part of a
spring festival of purification and regeneration.
Japan: Bon festival,
dedicated to the spirits of ancestors, for whom special
foods are prepared, occurs during the middle of the summer (one of the most
important festive periods of the year). Three days in length, it is a time when
everyone goes home (reminiscent of the American Thanksgiving).
The first week
of November is marked in many countries, especially those
with a strong Catholic influence, with festivals concerned with death in a
playful but serious way. In Catholic countries we often find some cognate of
Halloween associated with All Saints' or All Souls' days.
Mexico and other Latin American countries, the first and second of
November are the Days of the Dead -El Dias de los Muertos. In some regions,
the evening of 31 October is the beginning of the Day of the Dead Children,
which is followed on 1 November by the Day of the Dead Adults.
Skeleton figures-candy (sugar skulls), toys, statues and decorations-are seen
everywhere. It is a time for great festivity, with traditional plays and food. It
is a time to play with death and decorating family graves, which is preceded
by religious services and followed by picnics. The human skeleton or skull is
the primary symbol of the day. Unlike the American Halloween, in Mexico
people build home altars, adorned with religious icons and special breads and
other food for the dead. The Day of the Dead incorporates recognition of
death as a concept with rituals that remember the deaths of individuals.
has become one of the most important and widely celebrated
festivals on the contemporary American calendar, and it is not even officially
a holiday. No day off is given for Halloween, no federal decree is proclaimed
establishing it as a national holiday. People simply do it.
Santino, Jack -
"Halloween and other Festivals of Death and Life" University
of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 1994
Happy Halloween 1999 !