Halloween – What it Really is
Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve is celebrated on 31 October, the night before All Hallows’ Day, also known as All Saints’ Day.
All Saints’ Day is a Christianized feast that is derived from Celtic harvest festivals and Scottish pagan festivals of the dead. Today it is a Christian holiday, in some countries, set aside to remember the ones that are no longer with us.
In Celtic origins, Halloween represented the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It was also a time when spirits and fairies could visit our world. Many loved ones of the deceased usually prepared a large feast and added extra place settings at the table for their visiting spirits.
The Need for Disguises
However, All Hallows’ Eve and All Hallows’ Day was seen as the last chance for the dead to take revenge on the living. For that reason, beginning in the 18th century, many people disguised themselves, so they would not be recognized by their departed enemies. Also, to ward off evil spirits, many communities used bonfires in their rituals to scare witches and to deter harmful entities.
Around the 19th century, groups of children or the poor walked door to door, singing songs and saying prayers in exchange for food. This tradition may not only come from the Celtic tradition of hiding from evil spirits, but also from the Christian tradition of souling, where people baked and shared soul cakes. A soul cake is a small round cake, representing a soul. People believed that every time a soul cake was eaten, a soul was freed from purgatory.
Jack, the Devil, and the Turnip
In the 17th century, strange lights flickering over peat bogs, were called will-o’-the-wisps or jack-o’-lanterns. In the 19th century, the Irish and Scottish used carved lanterns made of turnips and mangelwurzels and use them during All Hallows’ Eve and All Hallows’ Day. Some claim that the carvings of grotesque faces represented spirits or goblins, others claim that they represented Christian souls in purgatory.
However, there are many stories about Jack of the jack-o’-lantern, who tricked the devil and is now wandering in the realm between heaven and hell, lighting his way with a lantern made of a carved turnip. Here’s my favorite.
Halloween in North America
Since the Puritans were strongly opposed to Halloween, this tradition did not emerge in North America until the mass immigration of the Irish and Scottish in the 19th century. By the 20th century, Halloween was already so wide-spread, that people of all social, racial and religious backgrounds were celebrating the event from East Coast to West Coast.
Halloween in Germany
When I was a kid in Germany, I only knew Halloween and trick-or-treating from American movies, such as E.T. and American TV shows, that were broadcasted in German. One October in the late 90s – by then I’ve already lived in the States for several years - I received a care package from my parents in Germany. To my surprise, it included eye-ball gummies and other Halloween candy. Delighted and confused, I made a long-distance call to my mom. She said that Halloween had caught on over there and many of the stores now carry Halloween candy and monster costumes in October. Also, Halloween parties for kids and grown-ups are becoming increasingly popular. Hahaha, just what we Germans need – another reason to party!!!
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