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Do you remember the days when "Trick or Treat" didn’t exist?

Halloween small.jpg

The word Halloween is a derivative of “All Hallows Eve”, meaning Hallowed Evening.


The word Hallow is from “Old English” for holy. What was “All Saints Day” was also known as “All Hallows Day” – the evening All Hallows Eve. The link there is obvious!


What was “All Hallows Day” / “All Saints Day” for?


There appears to be two traditions which form the history of the modern day Halloween.


It started with an ancient Pagan festival called Samhain, a Gaelic word pronounced “SAH-win”. This gives us a background to some of the more secular traditions relating to Halloween.


Samhain was a Celtic festival, Celts were polytheistic, they believed in more than one god. The Samhain festival began on 31st October because this date was noted as pivotal for the change in seasons.


Spiritually, it was considered an important date because it was believed that the boundary between this world and the next was at its thinnest. This means that more pagans were able to communicate with those that had passed over to the next world. This is how the more modern day perception of a haunted Halloween was developed.


In the Samhain festival the Celtic pagans used to dress in costumes, often animal skins and natural materials. The reason for these costumes were to allow them to hide from ghost and spirits that crossed over between worlds. They used to hollow out gourds, in which they could light fires (safely contained), the light was another way to keep any unwanted spirits and ghosts away.


This activity show how the traditions of dressing up and pumpkins came from.


From the early roots of Samhain, “All Hallows Day” or “All Saints Day” was introduced by the Christians.


Originally “All Saints Day” was 13th May – that’s from back in the 7th Century. Today “All Saints Day” is the 1st November. The day is marked as a day of celebration, remembrance and recognition for all the Christians that had performed deeds in their lives that entitled them a saintly status.


Why did it change from 13th May to 1st November? That was Pope Gregory IV in the 8th Century. It is believed that they wanted to shift people away from the “pagan” Samhain festival to something more “Christian”. By moving the date to the 1st November it made the 31st October “All Hallows Eve” – Halloween.


With “All Hallows Eve” people went out in the evening, door to door, reciting songs or verses in celebration of the saints.


This introduces the behaviour of people going from door to door.


We have another celebratory day on the 2nd November, it’s called “All Souls Day”. This is a Christian based tradition. With the death of individuals it was believed they passed in to purgatory, a void between earthly and heavenly state, whilst serving time for sins committed on earth. It is believed that the time spent in purgatory can be reduced by people praying for the souls of those that have passed. “All Souls Day” was a specific day for people to dedicate time to pray for the dead. This involved trips to cemeteries and graves.


You can see here the connection again with graveyards and the dead.


On “All Souls Day” it was common for people to give out “soul cakes”, small round, sweet, spiced cakes to people, mainly children, that knocked on their doors. It was believed that each “soul cake” eaten represented someone freed from purgatory. People visited often carrying a carved gourd with a light in to represent the souls trapped in purgatory. This practise was still reported to occur in Chesire until early 1950’s.


There was a shift from “soul cakes” to sweets and treats.


This gives us all the elements for today’s Halloween – except the trick or treat element.


It wasn’t all from America. The trick or treat element has a number of historic sources.


In Pagan festivals a table would be laid with food for visiting spirits to placate them, tricksters would dress as ghosts and spirits to take this food.


On “All Hallows Eve” those that couldn’t sing or recite would offer to perform a trick as an alternative.


From the 1950’s, developing in America the term “trick or treat” gained momentum. Children knocked from door to door asking for treats and, if they failed to secure a treat they would play a mischievous trick on the home owner. Initially this may have involved water, eggs, flour etc but as time moved on there were instances of criminal damage and more extreme “tricks”. This led to the more commonly seen Halloween parties and parental supervised Halloween trick or treating seen today.

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