Be The Ghostess With The Mostess!
Posted on 23 October 2012
I’ve just come back from my local supermarket, and even if I wasn’t buyer for an online jewellery shop and therefore already knee deep in shimmering spooky ghoul ware, it would be impossible not to notice from the sheer volume of merchandise on display that as a nation, we’re about to enter into the spirit of an even bigger, better celebration of Halloween than ever before.
Indeed, on October 31st, which this year falls on a Wednesday, anyone prepared to act their shoe size, rather than their age, is in for a treat. And the trick is to enjoy it.
This is the one night of the year when ghosts, witches and fairies are thought to be especially active. And in my neck of the woods this will be physically, as well as meta-physically true, as gangs of tiny tots – their parents forming ghostly shadows at the gate – will arrive at my door as ghouls, ghosts, witches and fairies to ask that most important of questions “Trick or Treat?” Naturally, I will reply “Treat” and they will then divest themselves of as many sweets as their tiny hands can carry, before happy as Larry, scooting off next door to perform the same ritual.
So I ask myself the question, “What on earth – literally – is it all about?”
What is Halloween?
Well, the truth is, no-one really knows. But what we do know is that the three days between 31st October and 2nd November see pagan and Christian celebrations intertwined as superstition and religious beliefs collide.
Halloween is a secular holiday which combines traditional harvest festival celebrations with Halloween celebrations and decorations based on images of death and the supernatural.
Until the 1960s, it was primarily a children’s holiday, a major event in the USA, but somewhat low key in the UK. However, in more recent years, as UK supermarkets, department stores and hundreds of small party and dress-up shops began to enter into the spirit of the occasion, both children and grown-ups started to enjoy the fun of trick-or-treating , wearing costumes and masks, throwing costume parties and buying themed decorations. Indeed, in 2012, Halloween ranks as one of the most successful all-ages celebrations of the new millennium.
How and when did Halloween originate?
It’s hard to find hard historical fact for some of the practices that have built up around Halloween, however, the best religious evidence indicates that Halloween (a contraction of All Hallows Even) simply means the day before All Hallows Day, better known as All Saints Day Halloween originated in the early Middle Ages, when November 1st became a Catholic vigil and day of prayer for saints and martyrs of the church. This was followed on November 2nd by All Souls Day, a day of prayer for the souls of all the dead.
Its superstitious lineage seems to date back to the pagan festival of Samhain, which is said to have marked the end of summer and the onset of winter and was celebrated with feasting, bonfires, sacrificial offerings and homage to the dead. This was considered the time of year when the physical and supernatural worlds were closest and magical things could happen.
During the medieval period several practices were associated with Halloween, these included lighting bonfires to light the way to heaven for souls lost in purgatory and “souling”, which consisted of going door-to-door offering prayers for the dead in exchange for “soul cakes” and other treats. The custom of parading in costume, chanting rhymes, and play-acting was added later.
Despite the obvious similarities between old and new, it’s somewhat of an exaggeration to say that medieval customs survived to the present day, or even that they evolved into modern Halloween practices such as trick-or-treating. Indeed, the secular, highly commercialized celebration we know today would be barely recognizable to people celebrating the same event even a century ago.
As for me, I’ve taken a shine to one of our fabulous, ultra-shimmering brooches and Halloween has provided the perfect excuse for me to claim him as my own! Known as The Grin Reeper he’s big, bold and handsome and looks fab on my jacket. And, I have to say, he’s been quite a talking point and attention grabber around the shops and supermarket this afternoon. And yes, since I’ve now been invited to a fancy dress party, I will definitely be one of those acting my shoe size and not my age on October 31st! Spook on!