What is it about Halloween that makes adults want to dress up in all sorts of weird costumes and act like young children or teenagers? Some think it’s just a time to forget about the stresses of daily lives, get silly, go to parties, laugh, and enjoy friends and family.
In the United States, it’s the unofficial start of the annual holiday season. You can mark your calendar from October 31 to January 1. Although some retail stores start selling holiday goods as early as September 1.
Whatever the reason, people are celebrating the Halloween holiday more and more around the world. You may welcome Halloween or hate having to buy all that candy. Either way, Halloween seems to be here to stay.
How do you dress up? As a ghost, a skeleton, or perhaps a hobo or cartoon character?
Many cultures enjoy Halloween as a secular event. However, some religions call it a pagan festival and forbid any observance.
Halloween’s origins stretch back over several thousand years. Back even to the Druids in Ireland and the ancient Roman Empire’s many religious festivals.
The Celtic tradition of Samhain celebrates the fall harvest and mark the coming of winter. Darkness and chilly winds start to creep in with less sunlight every day. This is the one time of year, believers say, when the barrier between the living and the dead fades. A bridge between the two worlds allows spirits to cross over, haunt, and terrorize the countryside.
People wanted to appease the ghosts by offering food and drink. Extra dishes were set at dining tables. Solemn ceremonies honored ancestors. Candles burned brightly as signs of respect for the departed. Families visit graves to show respect.
The early Christian church dubbed the holiday “All Hallows Evening,” “Allhaloween” and “All Saints Eve.” It was part of a three-day celebration to remember saints, martyrs and other righteous dead. Pope Gregory IV set the date as November 1. In many Latin countries, November 1 is instead called “Day of the Dead.”
Historians say the Celts observed festivals from sunset to sunset. Hence, October 31 became “All Hallows Eve.”
The word Halloween is a shortened name. Some communities refer to the night before as Mischief Night, when neighbors play harmless pranks on each other.
As many small churches didn’t have the funds to buy “relics,” parishioners began dressing up as saints. Later, people and children in a variety of costumes went house to house asking for “soul cakes” to offer to the ghosts. This “guising,” as it was called, became the modern “trick or treating.”
Halloween didn’t become a popular American holiday until after the mid 1800s. That’s when large numbers of Irish and Scots immigrated to the U.S. Haunted houses appeared on the scene in the early 1930s, particularly at amusement parks and other public venues.
The mixture of ghost and the living, ancestors and their descendents, fairies, spirits and ghouls vary greatly among countries and cultures. Grotesquely carved turnips in Europe held candles to ward off evil beings. Turnips were hard to find in the U.S., so carvers used the softer pumpkins instead.
The phrase “Jack O’Lantern” comes from a man who thwarted the devil. According Christian folklore, Jack used a hot coal and hollowed out turnip to ward off Satan. Legend says he is still wandering to find a place to rest.
Do you like bobbing for apples? That custom began as a way for unmarried women to find out who their husbands would be. Girls would toss apple peels over their shoulders. The shape the peel took when it landed was the first letter of the man’s name.
The Irish baked rings, coins and other objects into small cakes. If you got a ring, that meant you would soon be married. A coin meant wealth. But if you didn’t get either, oh well, just wait til next Halloween.
Halloween doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. Instead, it can be a time for friends and family to just have fun. You can dress up as your favorite animal or superhero. Walk through your neighborhood and you probably will see parents holding their young children’s hands.
Other traditions could be a hayride, a corn maze, and Halloween parties. Halloween-themed refreshments could be “eyeball soup” using pearl onions or witches brew with floating ghost shaped ice cubes.
In a world where many feel caught in the restraints of cultural norms, you can take a break. Be wild and crazy at Halloween. It feels good.