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Halloween and Other Festivals Around the World
The last day of October is a day here in the UK that can be very cold and wet. It is around the time we change our clocks again and when we know that winter if not here already is defiantly not far away. The nights are dark and spooky and the shadows of trees can often look like they are creatures moving about. The slightest noise can scare you on these dark nights and on this day there will be lots of screams.
It is the day when the dead are celebrated around the world.
Halloween AKA All Hallows' Eve is a festival that has deep rooted origins. Today however it is just an excuse to dress up in scary costumes and bribe money or sweets off your neighbors.
It is thought that Halloween has its roots in the Old Celtic festival of Samhain (sah-win) which is the celebration of the end of the the Harvest Season. The Pagans believed that on this day that the boundary between our world and that of the dead would open allowing spirits to come through and cause disease and damage crops.
It lasted for three days.
Bonfires would be lit for protection against the spirits and feasts would be had. People would lay an extra place at the table for a dead loved one to join them. It was believed that offering the spirits food would appease them and stop them spreading disease of damaging the crops that had been harvested. Bonfires were lit and animals sacrificed and there would be a communal feast. People would dress up in costumes made from animal heads and skin. They would also dress like ghosts. Turnips would be hollowed out and made to look like protective spirits. Pagans believed these things would protect them. These were known as Jack O Lanterns and are today usually made from Pumpkins instead.
Samhain is also the Celtic New year and like with the modern world a time to let out the old and embrace what is to come. It would have been a time to reminisce and remember those who had died over the last year.
By the 16th century it is recorded that people were going door to door collecting food for feasts. This evolved into pranking and eventually Trick or Treating was born
All Hallows Eve/ All Saints Day
The Catholic Church decided sometime around the 8th Century to use November 1st as a day to celebrate all the saints as not all of them had their own day. The Night before became known as All Hallows Eve which eventually turned into Halloween as we have come to celebrate it today. It is believed by some that the church chose that day so as to try and Christianize the pagans and their rituals. As the Pagans celebrated their dead then introducing them to the idea of celebrating dead saints would have seemed like a good idea.
Halloween in England
It wasn't until the early part of the 20th Centuary that the Idea of wearing costumes and trick or treating came to England. This is in part due to the Celtic revival or that period. The Use of Turnip lanterns also started in England around this time and it was the English who coined the phrase Jack-O-Lantern.
Over the years Halloween has become Americanized and commercialized. When I was a kid we still carved Turnups here in the UK. Today however it is more likely to see a carved Pumpkin than a traditional pagan turnip carving. This is due to the fact that it is the pumpkin that is widely available in the US and it is a little easier to carve.
Dia de los Muertos
Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead is a Mexican Holiday where they honor the dead. Like with Samhain it is believed that it is a time when spirits are able to return to earth. The Holiday lasts for 3 days running from the 31st October to 2nd November.
The first day of the holiday is used to remember lost children and then Adults are remembered on the Second day. Relatives of the dead build alters at the graves and place the deceased's favorite food and drink on them. This is somewhat similar again to Samhain.
It is believed that the celebrations origins date back over one thousand years to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl.
Halloween in my House
I still believe that it should be a Turnip that is used as a lantern here in the UK. It is a traditional symbol. They are harder to carve than a pumpkin and most of them that you see in the shops are not that big. Once hollowed out I chop the inner part up and freeze it for use in a dinner on the next Sunday. I place the carved Turnip on my doorstep for protection. I have a box of Harribo on hand to appease the evil spirits that come knocking.