Halloween is big business these days, with shops using it as an opportunity to boost sales before Christmas. You may curse the commercialisation, but in truth, the origins are really interesting and part of our own heritage. In fact it’s part of much older traditions centred on three days at this time of year, in the past called Hallowtide – All Hallow’s Eve (31 October), All Saints’ Day (1 November) and All Souls’ Day (2 November).
With its early roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain, people thought that at Hallowtide, the veil between the land of the living and the world of the dead was at its thinnest, allowing the two worlds to collide. This was why they believed that spirits of the dead would walk among the living. The tradition of dressing up in costume was for people to disguise themselves when going out after dark, to prevent them being recognised and harmed by wandering lost souls.
Faces carved into turnips were traditionally used to scare off evil spirits (although anyone who’s ever tried to hollow out a turnip will appreciate the introduction of the pumpkin as a far easier alternative!). And some believe that apple bobbing was invented as a game to mimic the practice of ducking witches in the Middle Ages; while others believe it was a way to find out who you’d marry…
And if you think ‘trick or treating’ is a modern phenomenon, then it’s worth knowing that in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, children would embark on a very similar kind of exercise – they’d go singing and knocking on neighbours’ doors asking for alms and ‘soul cakes’ in return for saying prayers for the dead. When each soul cake was eaten the following day, a soul would be released from Purgatory.
The following day is All Saints’ Day, the 1st October. This festival was first proposed by St Odilo, a bishop of Cluny in France in the tenth century, as a special day to remember all the saints in Christian history, especially those who had been forgotten by history or didn’t merit a name day of their own.
Finally, to end the Hallowtide festival, the 2nd November is All Souls’ Day. In the Christian calendar and beyond, this traditionally was – and still is to some people – a time to remember and pray for the souls of their dead friends and relatives. To this day, masses are said and many still visit graves of their lost ones at this time of year as a sign of respect and to show they may be gone, but they are never forgotten.
So if you’re inundated by trick or treaters at this time of year, remember that deep down, it isn’t about commercialisation and big businesses’ profit margins. In fact, it really is all about having a special time of the year to remember and show respect to your own loved ones who’ve passed on.
We at Sarsfield Memorials appreciate how difficult it is to lose a loved one and while the pain may fade, the memories never do. So if you want to have a chat to us about how you can remember your loved ones at this or any other time of the year, do get in touch.