Halloween might have started off as a drunken remembrance for those lost in the previous year but it has morphed into something entirely different.
As October rolls on we get closer and closer to the supernatural themed festivities that are shrouded by the umbrella term “Halloween”. With origins lost in the mists of time and influences that have ranged from pagan gods to the christian religion and heavy drinking to human sacrifice, it remains one of the most popular holidays in the world. The mixture of traditions and activities has something for everyone and appeals to our instinctive love of the supernatural.
The Celtic festival of Samhain is often cited as being one of the origins of Halloween and involved feasting in memory of those lost at the end of the summer when bonfires would be lit to ward off witches. Over the years the Christian influence brought a more sombre feel to the holiday with meals prepared for visiting dead relatives, and indeed it is impersonating these spirits coupled with the tradition of soul cakes that gives us Trick-or-Treating today.
Soul Cakes were traditionally given on the doorstep to those that sang or performed and each one eaten was reputed to save a soul from purgatory but they are by no means the only food associated with Halloween. From cake containing indications of your future to the nearly 4lbs of pumpkins Americans consume per capita food makes up a big part of celebrations and, of course, it just wouldn’t be Halloween without plenty of candy.
It is of course the candy aspect of the holiday that children tend to cling to, perhaps gambling news of tooth decay is merely dental propaganda, but a lot of their attitudes to Halloween come the television. The goggle box has long been a heavy influence on society and much of the “traditions” we observe today are a perpetuation of a televisual, entirely sanitized, version of the festival. The cartoons that hit the TV screen every year about this time program kids in the ways of Halloween, and Halloween candy.
Nor is it just children whose idea and concept of what Halloween is has been shaped by the popular culture of the time. Whilst many adults “play along” for the sake of the kids many whole-heartedly plunge into the spirit of the occasion, their minds set alight by the horror films based around Halloween pumped out by movie studios just in time for big weekend grosses. Maniacs and screaming teenage girls might not seem a tradition, but it’s becoming one.
Not that everyone has shed all but the excess feasting and tale telling traditions. Whilst many of us have returned to celebrating Halloween in much the same way the Celts did, there are many religious observances that are still undertaken by the faithful. The world over the influence of the Roman Catholic church can still be seen in the numbers of people that will attend church, visit graves and set at place at table for those that might return.
Pretending you’re one of these returning spirits is a tradition that goes back a few hundred years and if you want to pull it off you’re going to have to dress up in a costume. When the poor went door to door to receive Soul Cakes they wore costumes as they sang, played instruments or danced, and this carries on today with over 2.4 billion dollars spent on costumes each year in the US alone. Children dress to go trick-or-treating, but what excuse do grown adults have for copying them?
Perhaps it is that even adults require, as human beings, something beyond the physical world, and in these days of ever dwindling religious faith, we have sought it in many and varied places beyond the holy tomes of old dead gods and their spokesmen. Indeed we seek it so much we invent it for ourselves in the so-called urban myths and legends that have taken the place of the stories of ghosts, goblins and witches so often used as symbolic advertising by online gambling sites in the UK.
Of course all businesses do the same. From the retail stores with their massive window displays to the sites on the internet gambling in the UK on profits increasing due to our inclination towards the spooky, Halloween is one of the most commercially exploited festivals in the world, possibly in history. Worse still it is just the starting whistle of the overly long, greed-orientated, consumo-gasm that is the holiday season. No wonder so many of us try and get away from it all.
Of course it doesn’t matter where you go there will still be at least a few events dedicated to this age old festival of supernatural spirits, legends, and cautionary tales. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Italy, Germany, Australia or the US, there is always going to be an event near you that will allow you to enjoy the spectacle, feel the vibe and participate in all the fun. Many places hold events for charity and not every event ends in a New Hampshire riot.