Dates for your diary
By Kim O’Hare
The days are getting shorter and cooler, the leaves are changing colour, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Halloween.
In recent years Halloween has been elevated in status and in America it is now second only to Christmas in terms of retail spending. Decorating homes, offices and storefronts has become something of an obsession.
Halloween in the past was a kids’ event but increasingly adults are getting involved. Adults can act out fantasies which, for the other 364 days of the year, would be off limits. How did all of this get started?
Many of the Halloween traditions originated with the pagan religious practices of the Celts with the Catholic Church later modifying and, in some cases, adopting them. Many of today’s traditions can be traced back to those pagan times.
Trick-or-treating, also known as “guising”, is an activity for children in which they travel from house to house, in full costume, asking for treats such as candy. The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays goes back to the Middle Ages. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of “souling,” when poor folk would go door to door, receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day.
The National Confectioners Association reported in 2005 that 80 percent of adults in America planned to give out candy to trick-or-treaters, and that 93 percent of children planned to go trick-or-treating. The activity has long been popular in the United States, Ireland and Canada, but in recent years has spread worldwide.
Many of the main characters associated with Halloween are based on All Souls Day, the day set apart in the Roman Catholic Church for the commemoration of the faithful departed.
The celebration is based on the doctrine that the souls of the faithful which at death have not been cleansed from venial sins, or have not atoned for past transgressions, cannot proceed directly to Heaven. They need your prayers.
One of Halloween’s most familiar mythical creatures is the ghost, which has a strong connection to the original pagan holiday of “samhain” (the word for November in the Irish language.)
Another character is the ghoul, a foul being that haunts graveyards. Vampires, animated corpses dependant on human blood, are also prevalent. A werewolf is a human who has been placed under a curse, usually by being bitten by another werewolf, and during a full moon they turn into werewolves. A Halloween witch is a female who engages in magic and casts spells. The male version is generally referred to as a warlock.
Bats are another prominent Halloween symbol. In folklore bats are closely associated with vampires, who are said to be able to transform into them. Bats are also a symbol of ghosts, death, and disease. Black cats are also very popular during this season. They are traditionally associated with witches or demons. Skeletons are used to symbolise death. Also, spiders, rats, mice, and worms are often included in faux graveyards and haunted houses.
The advent of feature films brought with it a new set of Halloween characters.
Count Dracula, a fictional vampire who has taken on celebrity status, was created by author Bram Stoker. He was loosely based on Vlad Tepes of Romania and our image of him as cultural icon has largely been shaped by the portrayal of him by Bela Lugosi in the 1931 movie version of Dracula.
The Grim Reaper, or Death, is another product of literature. He has appeared in many forms in literature for centuries. Today he is normally featured as a skeletal figure wearing a black gown with a cowl. A Halloween mummy is inspired by the 1932 movie The Mummy. This features a malevolent Egyptian mummy that has come back to life.
Jack-o’-lanterns are the ubiquitous Halloween symbol. They are made from hollowed out pumpkins with a frightful or humorous face carved into them. A candle is placed inside the lantern to illuminate it.
The legend of the jack-o’-lantern comes from Ireland. A drunkard named Jack stumbled home from a night of drinking at a local tavern. The Devil appeared and demanded that Jack come to hell with him because of his evil ways. Jack convinced the Devil to climb a nearby tree to pick an apple. As the Devil climbed the tree, Jack carved a cross in the tree’s trunk thereby preventing the Devil from coming back down.
The Devil demanded that Jack release him. Jack said he would if the Devil promised to never admit him to hell. The Devil agreed. When Jack died he was too sinful to be allowed into heaven, but the Devil would not let him into hell, so Jack carved out one of his turnips, put a candle inside it, and began endlessly wandering the earth looking for a place where he could find eternal rest.
With Halloween taking on such an important role in terms of retail sales one can’t help but wonder whether the real ghouls and ghosts are those in the corporate boardrooms, collecting sacks of money instead of candy.