Halloween - The Biggest Fancy Dress Holiday of all!
Halloween is the biggest costume event of the year...but just how did this Trick or Treat holiday begin?
Halloween or Hallowe'en (a contraction of its original title "All Hallows' Even"), also known as All Hallows' Eve, is a yearly holiday observed around the world on October 31, the eve before the Western Christian feast of All Hallows. According to some scholars, All Hallows' Eve initially incorporated traditions from pagan harvest festivals and festivals honoring the dead, particularly the Celtic Samhain.
Historian Nicholas Rogers, exploring the origins of Halloween, notes that while "some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, derived from the Old Irish Samuin meaning "summer's end". Samhain was the first and the most important of the four quarter days in the medieval Irish and Scottish calendar and, falling on the last day of autumn, it was a time for stock-taking and preparation for the cold winter months ahead. There was also a sense that this was the time of year when the physical and supernatural worlds were closest and magical things could happen making it an important holiday for witches and pagan religions. To ward off evil spirits, the Gaels built huge, symbolically regenerative bonfires and invoked the help of the gods through animal and perhaps even human sacrifice. In the Western Isles of Scotland the Sluagh, or fairy host was regarded as composed of the souls of the dead flying through the air, and the feast of the dead at Hallowe'en was likewise the festival of the fairies.
Halloween is also thought to have been heavily influenced by the Christian holy days of All Saints' Day (also known as Hallowmas, All Hallows, and Hallowtide) and All Souls' Day. Falling on November 1 and 2 respectively, they were a time for honoring the saints and praying for the recently departed who had yet to reach Heaven. It was traditionally believed that the souls of the departed wandered the earth until All Saints' Day, and All Hallows' Eve provided one last chance for the dead to gain vengeance on their enemies before moving onto the next world. To avoid being recognised by a soul, Christians would wear masks and costumes to disguise themselves, which may be where our tradition of wearing Halloween costumes started.
Halloween costumes are traditionally modeled after supernatural figures such as monsters, ghosts, skeletons, witches, and devils. Over time, the costume selection extended to include popular characters from fiction, celebrities, and generic archetypes such as ninjas, princesses and other fairy tale characters. The first mass-produced Halloween costumes appeared in stores in the 1930s when trick-or-treating was becoming popular in the United States.
The carving of jack-o'-lanterns springs from the Samhain custom of carving turnips into lanterns as a way of remembering the souls held in purgatory. The turnip has traditionally been used in Ireland and Scotland at Halloween, but immigrants to North America used the native pumpkin, which is both much softer and much larger – making it easier to carve than a turnip. The American tradition of carving pumpkins is recorded in 1837 and was originally associated with harvest time in general, not becoming specifically associated with Halloween until the mid-to-late 19th century. Other elements of the autumn season, such as pumpkins, corn husks and scarecrows, are also prevalent. Homes are often decorated with these types of symbols around Halloween.
Halloween parties became common in the 1950s as a way to curb pranks and vandalism by children giving them a safer alternative to trick and treating. There are several games traditionally associated with Halloween parties. One common game is dunking or apple bobbing, in which apples float in a tub or a large basin of water and the participants must use their teeth to remove an apple from the basin. A variant of dunking involves kneeling on a chair, holding a fork between the teeth and trying to drop the fork into an apple.
Some games traditionally played at Halloween are forms of divination. A traditional Scottish form of divining one's future spouse is to carve an apple in one long strip, then toss the peel over one's shoulder. The peel is believed to land in the shape of the first letter of the future spouse's name. Unmarried women were told that if they sat in a darkened room and gazed into a mirror on Halloween night, the face of their future husband would appear in the mirror (a traditional form of scrying). However, if they were destined to die before marriage, a skull would appear. Fortune tellers are common during Halloween using tarot cards and other forms of divination.
The telling of ghost stories and viewing of horror films are common fixtures of modern Halloween parties. Haunted houses and carnival attractions are entertainment venues designed to thrill and scare patrons. Most attractions are seasonal Halloween businesses. They include haunted houses, corn mazes, and hayrides, and the level of sophistication of the effects has risen as the industry has grown. Haunted attractions in the United States draw some 400,000 customers.
Neopagans such as Wiccans consider the season a holy time of year viewing it as a time to honor their ancesters, make offerings to the gods and the ancestors, and perform harvest and divination rituals.