Halloween, All Hallows Eve, is the day before All Saints’ Day, or All Hallows Day. I had not known this before, but Hallow means holy! As we know it, it is a day in high Fall, with brown and yellow and orange and red leaves swirling all around little children and not so little adults dressed up as ghouls, witches, and zombies. But why all the scariness?
Halloween is thought to be the Gaelic festival Samhain (pronounced sow-when) traditionally celebrated on the 31st October. This day marked the end of the year, so like New Years Eve for the Celts. This was when all the harvesting was done and all the animals brought down from the high fields closer to the homestead. November 1st was declared as the “darker days”, and it is why many Celtic heritage peoples will say winter begins on November 1st (like the Irish, for example).
Why the costumes?
The Celts believed that at this time of year the barrier between the living and dead was weak. They would set a place at the dinner table for their lost loved ones and go around door to door exchanging song for food. They were often disguised to trick the actual dead who may be wandering around lost. It was also a night where people would be mischief, hence the phrase “Trick or Treat”.
Tricks & Treats
Treats were a lot healthier back then, they got hazelnuts and apples instead of chocolate and candy like we do today. There is also a special cake called Barn Brack which has items baked inside. The cake would be sliced and shared randomly. If you received a slice with a gold ring then that meant marriage, a coin meant wealth and a piece of rag meant poverty. The trickery side comes from the scots, and although today can be quite destructive, there are still many harmless, scary tricks to play. Here are a few of my favorites:
Knock and run (or ring the doorbell)
Give candy to the homeowner instead, reversing the roles
Pretend to be A garden decoration and jump out at unsuspecting passersbyS
Crash somebody else's trick or treating group and say nothing - they will be baffled!
Coming to America
The celebration of Halloween came with the wave of Irish and Scottish immigration in mid 19th century. Fleeing famine and poverty, with the promising American Dream “across the pond”, many of these immigrants still held onto hometown traditions. Now the festivities have spread across the whole country including all races, religions, and backgrounds. It is now so huge in the US that many countries believe that this is an American holiday, that is to say, originating in the US!
Waste Not Want Not:
Dressing up for Halloween is fun, for the children and the adults. Homes are incredibly decorated to represent horror stories, and even pets get to partake. But all of this weighs heavily on our environment. The amount of plastic bought and discarded for one night's amusement is detrimental for our earth. When my parents were young they dressed up in potato sacks with coal on their faces. My siblings and I were upgraded to black plastic trash bags and masks. Nowadays, you can dress up as anything you want, businesses reaping in the profit. Try this year to recycle and reuse, mix and match. My favorite childhood outfit (after we moved from the trash bags) was always a scarecrow:
My father's shirt and pants, arms and legs rolled up, or his shirt with a pair of overalls.
Hay for my guinea pigs cage was carefully stuffed up the arms, the legs and out of the neck.
Tie some string loosely around the arm cuffs and legs.
Moms floppy summer hat came out of storage and there you have it, a costume made from home, totally authentic and original.
There are of course the traditional bedsheet ghosts or dressed all in black with homemade ears and tail to be the black cat. Try and get your creative side going too with all those cardboard boxes lying around (or am I the only one who hoards cardboard boxes??) Sure, I get it, the kids really want to be Spiderman, and mom or dad don’t have enough time to make an outfit. Try to source one from a neighbor or on craigslist second hand. And if you do have outfits that no one will wear, or you have to buy one, then donate/resell it the next year.
Halloween, the eerie eve where the doors to the otherworld stand open. Have fun, discourage others from egging and toilet papering homes, and PARTAKE! It is usually the homes who don’t partake that get egged. Why not play a trick and place jack-o-lanterns in the window, and when they knock, don’t answer! Or give nuts and apples like tradition - you will undoubtedly be an unpopular house then.