By Steven Allison
Whilst desperately scouring the streets of Edinburgh for Fancy dress shops for original ideas for a Halloween costume, I began to wonder…’what is Halloween and how did originate?’
Halloween actually stretches back 2000 years to ancient Celtic times and started with a festival called Sahmain, which was on 31st of October, the night before the Celtic New Year. The Celts, residing in the area that is now Ireland, the United kingdom and northern France, believed the worlds of the living and the dead became entwined on this night, and the return of the spirits of the dead to this world made it easier for Celtic Priests to predict the future. These prophecies provided comfort and direction to these people during the long, dark winter.
Costumes, made mainly from animal skins, were worn, and bonfires were lit to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to Celtic Deities.
By A.D. 43, when the Romans had conquered most of the Celtic territory, two of their festivals were combined with Sahmain. Firstly, there was Feralia, a day late in October, where the passing of the dead was commemorated. Secondly there was a day to honour the Roman Godess of fruit and trees, Pomona. Her symbol was an apple, which explains the presence of apples in today’s celebrations, in the form of ‘bobbing for apples’.
By the 800’s, Christianity started to have an influence in Celtic lands, and November 1st was names All Saint’s Day, otherwise known as All-hallows. The night before became known as All-hallows Eve, and eventually Halloween.
So, how did Halloween become so much more popular in America than it has ever been here?
These celebrations spread to America with European immigrant. Their varied customs meshed with those of the American Indians and a distinctly American version of Halloween quickly developed. ‘Play parties’ were held, where stories of the dead were exchanged and fortunes were told. By the second half 19th Century, the tradition of ‘trick or treating’ emerged with the huge influx of Irish Immigrants due to the potato famine. People would go from house to house in costume asking for food or money and tricks were played with yarn, apples or mirrors.
By the late 1800’s these celebrations became centred on community get-togethers and by the turn of the Century Halloween parties were held, which focussed on games and dressing up.
So, by the 1920’s and the 1930’s, Halloween had become a secular but community based celebration, and by the 1950’s, it was mainly directed at the young.
An estimated $7 billion is spent in America on Halloween today, making it it’s most expensive commercial holiday, second to Christmas. In the United Kingdom, the figures are not quite so staggering, apart from the fact that an unbelievable £25 million is spent on pumpkins alone
Strangely, these celebrations are much less popular in this country, despite the fact that they originated in this neck of the woods. I can’t really remember ever celebrating Halloween when I was younger and if we did it was at home with my family. I was never allowed to go out ‘trick or treating’ with my friends, as my mother felt it was “a form of begging”. Halloween is slightly more fun today, as it is an excuse to find a silly costume, get together with friends and have a good time. Not to mention much cringing to be done the next day whilst perusing the photographs from the night before.
So, watch this space regarding my hunt for the most ridiculously original outfit out there. The best suggestion so far has been a pizza box. Hmmm. We shall see.