By Rupert Ibbotson
Holding the record for being one of the world’s oldest holidays, the origins of Halloween lie in the Celtic festival of Samhain. Samhain celebrates the end of the harvest season in Celtic culture and was a time to build supplies in preparation for winter. The Celts believed that on October 31st, the boundaries between our world and the otherworld opened and that the dead were able to mingle with the living. Over the millennia, this pagan festival transitioned into what it is today; a day of merriment, costumes, parades and sweet treats.
In Ireland, bonfires are still lit like they were centuries ago; the Celts used them to frighten spirits away, believing the fires brought comfort to souls in purgatory. Today they still represent those ideals, bringing warmth to rural communities on a cold night. At Halloween, many attend parties with neighbours and friends where games are played like ‘Snap-Apple’: an apple on a string is tied to a doorframe or tree and players attempt to bite the hanging apple. The Irish also have traditional food on the 31st like Barnbrack, a kind of fruitcake that is bought in stores or baked at home. A treat is baked inside the cake that, it is said, foretells the eater’s future. If a ring is found, it means that the person will soon be wed; a piece of straw means that a prosperous year is on its way.
Other countries also have special customs and traditions carried out during Halloween. In Czechoslovakia, chairs are placed by the fireside at night. There is one chair for each living family member and one for each family member’s spirit. In Germany, they put away their knives at night because they do not want to risk harm to (or from) the returning spirits. In Mexico, they have ‘El Dia de los Muertos’, ‘The Days of the Dead; a three day celebration beginning on the 31stOctober and culminating on November 2nd. Designed to honour the dead, who are believed to return to their homes during the festival, families construct altars in their homes for their ancestors.
Therefore, it is evident that Halloween has become a diverse occasion, celebrated in many different ways by many different cultures. Although, the classic ideals associated with Halloween are still found within these celebrations making Halloween a truly globalised festival.