Traditions of terror

Whether you are someone who goes full out with costumes, decor, and parties, or the one who silently leaves the house as night falls to avoid the trick or treaters, Halloween is here.

Whilst some see it as an Americanised holiday, it appears to be gaining popularity in the UK. Many have forgotten the roots of the festival, thinking they are little more than relatively new fads, but most of the traditions date back to earlier times.

The Celtic festival of Samhain, which is still celebrated by Pagans today, marks the end of the harvest season and is symbolic of the boundary between the living and the dead.

As the Celtic days ran from sunset to sunset, fires would be lit to ward off any evil spirits, as it was believed that the ghosts of their dead would return to the mortal world.

A name that many people recognise for Halloween is All Hallow’s Eve, which is down to Pope Gregory who, in the eighth century, moved the All Hallows’ Feast from 13th May to the 1st November, so that it would coincide with the Celtic festival, and eventually replace it with a Christian occasion.

Most Halloween traditions are fairly old, despite the common view of them being a relatively new thing.

Dressing up goes back to Samhain and the Celts, where they would dress in white and paint their faces black in order to confuse any evil spirits roaming the earth.

This tradition was then adapted by Christianity and costumes have been becoming increasingly creative since the Victorian era.

‘Souling’ had become a popular event by the 11th Century, during which children dressed as saints, angels, or demons would go door to door and ask for soul cakes (small sweet cakes marked with a cross on top, representative of a soul being released from purgatory when eaten), in exchange for prayers for the souls of family and friends.

Pumpkin carving is another tradition that comes from the Celts, though the choice of a pumpkin was simply due to a lack of turnips available to the Irish immigrants to North America in the 1840s.

The original reason for carving faces into turnips was so that spirits would be kept away and fairies prevented from entering houses.

October 31st has had a supernatural focus for around 3,000 years, and in many ways very little has changed in the way it is celebrated.


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March 2021
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