Halloween - The Beginning

It’s that time of year again, where the days get shorter, the high street’s colour scheme moves to orange and purple and the costume shops go into a frenzy. In the supermarkets, masses of pumpkins appear out of nowhere and the sales of broom sticks and candles go up exponentially. The entire month of October is spent in preparation for its very last day – Halloween.

Most people will be spending their time planning the ultimate costume party, curling up with their favourite slasher film or maybe just trying to find a nice quiet place to spend five minutes alone with their Ouija board. Maybe you’re just shut up at home, drawing the curtains in an attempt to hide from trick or treaters and trying to ignore the whole holiday. Whatever you’ll be doing, no one can argue with the fact that it’s hard to be unaffected by one of our most fun yet divisive holidays of the year. But why, when October rolls around, are we so obsessed with the darkness, and where did all of it actually come from?

Despite this holiday being so widely celebrated in the Western culture, there isn’t actually one definitive place where Halloween is thought to have originated. One popular theory is that it’s derived from the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), which marked the change of seasons from summer to autumn. Samhain took place toward the end of October and was largely celebrated as Celtic New Year’s Day – a day which lay neither in the past nor future, and therefore in an otherworldly rift which allowed spirits both good and bad to enter the human world and wreak havoc, and the dead could return to earth. One of the ways in which the ancient Celts dealt with this was by dressing up as spirits themselves in order to confuse and frighten evil spirits and send them running. Another (possibly preferable) method at warding off spirits was by feasting around massive bonfires.

The Celtic holiday somewhat merged with the Roman feast of Feralia, which also commemorated the dead, and eventually the Catholic church would attempt to replace both with a holiday celebrating the Saints which would come to be known as All Hallows Day. This festival, which was a push by the church to turn the country’s attention away from what they considered to be Pagan rituals, was celebrated with feasting and activities which included townspeople going door to door praying for the souls of people who had passed away, in the hope that their prayers would lead them to Heaven. Eventually, European immigrants would bring all of these traditions and practices to America, and the rest is history.

Today, Halloween is somewhat "nicified", don’t you think? We don’t go door to door trying to save lost souls but instead for candy, and there’s still an element of chaos but no one suspects demons anymore. Some people will still be celebrating Samhain, but I doubt you’ll see many people feasting around a bonfire anytime soon. Even so, we’re all still a bit more open to the supernatural this time of year, aren’t we?

So however you’re spending the creepiest night of the year, stay safe and careful, and watch out for spirits.

-Chloë Perrin 2016