The Traditions of Halloween


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Myself 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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On October 31, the Eve of the Christian feast of All Hallows’ (or All Saints’) Day, most people in Europe, the Americas, Australia, and a few in Asia and Africa celebrate “All Hallows’ Evening.” This celebration is also known as Halloween or Hallowe’en or Hallowmas.

All Saints’ Day, to honour the saints, falls on November 1, and the All Souls’ Day, the day to pray for the recently departed kith and kin, falls on November 2.

The word “Halloween” was first used by the Scottish around 1556 AD, as a variant of “All Hallows’ Even,” to mean the night before All Hallows’ Day or All Saints’ Day.

The Tradition of Guising

The Gaels or Goidels speak one of the Gaelic Celtic languages: Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx. Goidelic speech originated in Ireland and later spread to neighbouring regions. Celtic languages are most commonly spoken on the north-western edge of Europe, notably in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and Cape Breton Island.

The Gaelic festival of Samhain marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year. It is celebrated from sunset of October 31 to sunset of November 1.

The ancient Gaelic believed that during Samhain, the door to the nether worlds and realms of supernatural beings and the dead, opened just enough for the souls of the dead and other weird entities, to enter our world; so, they protected themselves from harmful spirits and fairies active in Samhain by taking various steps to allay or ward-off the harmful entities. One such act was the custom of Guising that influenced today’s Halloween costumes.

Were wolves and a skeleton
Were wolves and a skeleton (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
Little Red Devil (Photo: Subas Raj)
My grandson Rohan, the Little Red Devil in 2011 (Photo: V.A. Subas Raj)
My grandson Rohan dressed as Peter Pan in 2012 (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
My grandson Rohan ‘guising‘ as Peter Pan in 2012 (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
My grandson Rohan, the Little Pirate in 2013 (Photo: Ligia Fernando)
My grandson Rohan, the Little Pirate in 2013 (Photo: Ligia Fernando)

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In Scotland and Ireland, during Halloween, children go from a house to house, dressed up in various costumes. They receive gifts in the form of food, coins or apples or nuts and recently chocolates.

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A Witch, Maid, Imps, and a Skeleton
A Witch, a Maid, Astronauts, and a Skeleton (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

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The earliest record of Guising at Halloween comes from Scotland. In 1895, masqueraders in disguise carrying lanterns made by scooping out turnips, visited homes and were rewarded with cakes, fruit and money. It predates trick or treat.

The Tradition of Trick-or-Treating

In Scotland and Ireland, the people in the households expect the children who come to their houses to perform before they receive treats. The children sing or recite a joke or a funny poem which they had memorized before setting out. Some talented children may do card tricks, play the mouth organ, or do something impressive. Often the children get a treat, even if they did not perform.

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Trick or Treating (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

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While going from door-to-door in disguise, it has now become common for the children to pose the question: “Trick or treat?” The “trick” in this question happens to be an idle threat to perpetrate mischief on the homeowners or their property if they do not get the treat.

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Trick or Treating (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
Trick or Treating (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
Trick or Treating (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)
Trick or Treating (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

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The earliest known use in print of the term “trick or treat” appears in 1927, in the article “‘Trick or Treat’ Is Demand,” Herald (Lethbridge, Alberta), November 4, 1927, p. 5, dateline Blackie, Alberta, Nov. 3.

Hallowe’en provided an opportunity for real strenuous fun. No real damage was done except to the temper of some who had to hunt for wagon wheels, gates, wagons, barrels, etc., much of which decorated the front street. The youthful tormentors were at the back door and front demanding edible plunder by the word “trick or treat” to which the inmates gladly responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing.

The Tradition of Souling

Soul cakes
Soul cakes

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The tradition of going from door to door to receive food already existed in Great Britain and Ireland in the form of “souling”. The soulers, mainly consisting of children and the poor, would go from door to door on Halloween singing and saying prayers for the dead in return for small round soul cakes, simply called souls, traditionally made for All Saints Day or All Souls’ Day to celebrate the dead. Each cake eaten represented a soul freed from Purgatory. The practice of giving and eating soul cakes perhaps might be the origin of modern trick-or-treating.

The Tradition of Making Jack-o’-lanterns

The tradition of making lanterns during Halloween may have sprung from Samhain and Celtic beliefs. In the 19th century in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands people made turnip lanterns sometimes with faces carved into them during Samhain. The lanterns may serve three ways: to light one’s way while outside on Samhain night, to represent the spirits and otherworldly beings and entities, to protect oneself and one’s home from them.

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Traditional Irish Jack-o’-Lantern Modern carving of a Cornish Jack-o’-Lantern made from a turnip. Jack-o’-lantern lit from within by a candle.

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Jack-o’-lanterns derived their names from the phenomenon of strange light flickering over peat bogs, called ignis fatuus or jack-o’-lantern.

A modern jack-o’-lantern is typically a carved pumpkin. After cutting the top of the pumpkin, the flesh inside is scooped out. An image, usually a monstrous face, is carved out, and the lid replaced.

And as a passing thought I give you this Pumpkin Bowl: A cool, creative Halloween idea to hold your liquor. Thanks to Ms. Sheila Ribeiro, a mutual friend who posted this on Facebook.

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A Pumpkin Bowl: A cool, creative Halloween idea to hold your liquor (Source: http://www.freshomedecor.com)
Pumpkin Bowl: A cool, creative Halloween idea to hold your liquor (Source: http://www.freshomedecor.com)

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4 thoughts on “The Traditions of Halloween”

  1. Great post! thanks for giving me the real insights about what Halloween is all about… Of course! We do not celebrate Halloween; but it’s always great to know about the spirit and legacy behind such a great celebration. We do observe All saint’s day and All souls day..

    Like

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