Holidays: Halloween Stories
If this is your first year in North America, you may be puzzled or amused on the evening of October 31st to see the streets and hallways filled with small goblins, ghosts and fairies.
Children dress up in costumes and go from door to door asking for candy during this celebration known as Hallowe’en (short for Hallowed Evening or All Hallow’s Eve).
As with many historical celebrations, people do not agree on how it began.
Some say it is a Pagan ceremony that started with the Druids in the British Isles, where the day was originally known as Samhain (a Gaelic word meaning “Summer’s End), which was celebrated as a feast of the dead. (Other countries, including Mexico, also celebrate a Day of the Dead on October 31st.) This day is exactly halfway between the Autumn Equinox and Summer Solstice and the Druids considered it the start of the New Year. People went from door to door asking for money or food for the New Year's feast.
Ancient peoples thought this was a magical time when the "veil between the worlds" of the living and the dead was very thin. The dead were welcomed in from the cold to feast with their loved ones.
To start the New Year, households let their fires go out and huge bonfires were lit around the countryside. Having your home fire rekindled from these new fires brought good luck. Light was provided in the houses by lanterns carved out of pumpkins and turnips. It was said that the candles inside of the gourds flickered because they were being touched by spirits of the dead. At the end of the night, townspeople would dress up as ghosts and escort the spirits of the edge of town.
Christians trace the celebration to "All Martyr's Day," a Christian Memorial Day from the 4th century to remember those who had given their lives for the Faith during the Great Christian Holocaust.
Christians went to Church pageants on the evening before "All Martyr's Day" dressed as their favorite martyred saint (some beheaded and some run through with spears). Others dressed as the Romans, the wild animals of the coliseum, even Satan or his demons. The enemies were booed and the saints were cheered. After the pageant, people would go out into the streets and beg food for the poor among them.
Three hundred years later, Rome gave a building to the Church in memory of all the "martyrs" of the Great Persecution. Originally held on the 13th and 14th of May, the Western Churches started holding the celebration on the day the building was dedicated -- November 1 – and changed its name to "All Saints' Day."
The memorial day celebrated by the Christians may have been adopted from the older Jewish Festival of Purim, where people dress their children in costumes of the heroes and of the enemies in the biblical story of Esther. During this celebration, children in the costumes of those that died are sent out with baskets of treats to be delivered to the doors of favoured friends and relatives, and to the poor as well. The children, in turn, receive gifts of edible treats. The next morning, parades are held where people use plastic hammers, to bonk the heads of those who sent them no treats the night before.
However it began, Hallowe’en is hard to avoid in North America. Children make Hallowe’en decorations and sometimes even wear costumes to school. Apartment buildings and condos where “trick-or-treating” is not allowed often hold Hallowe’en parties. If you live in a house and do not want to give out treats, make sure to turn off your porch light – otherwise, dozens of little ghosts and goblins will come knocking at your door asking for treats – and you don’t want to be the ghoul who sends them away empty handed.
This story is from the "Autumn in Canada" InfoBlock. To read more stories on this topic, click here.