Not long before All Hallows’ Eve! Everyone tonight must be finishing the touches on their decorations, and getting their larders stocked up with lollies ready for trick-or-treaters. Well, that’s if you’re in the southern hemisphere anyways. I don’t find myself fussed with Halloween though, I stopped celebrating it not long after I turned 11 or 12 – not because I grew too mature or anything. I just never liked spooky themed celebrations.
I remember going to all the parties, and running out in the evenings to knock on doors for sweets. But the one thing I couldn’t shake off was this queasy feeling, when I saw someone dressed in a believably gory costume. Or when you were given Halloween themed food that looked a bit too much like brains, zombie heads or spiders. I remember when I was really young and my Mum had made (or bought) these biscuits, and the icing was done to make it look like an eyeball, and the iris was made of green and blue jelly. I felt sick to my stomach thinking about it. I’d argue to say I would still be like this now.
The thing is, it got me thinking. Why do we celebrate Halloween, and why do we celebrate it in such a ghoulish fashion?
Well as it turns out, Halloween – like most public celebrations prominent in the Anglosphere – originates from a Christian tradition (which some scholars believe to originate from western and pre-biblical Pagan traditions). In the Christian context, All Hallows’ Eve is the first part of the three day event knows as Allhallowtide, which is an event in which to remember the dead: the martyrs, the saints and the faithful souls. During All Hallows’ Eve, one is supposed to fast, abstain from meat and pray for the wandering souls which are thought to manifest themselves during that night. The reason to dress up in costume is so that the souls don’t recognize you, and the tradition of sweetened fruits and treats like toffee apple and soul cakes is because of the abstinence from meat. In the next two days come All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, whereby you honour the Saints and Souls through feast and celebration.
It’s a long and interesting history, and one we see morph into the secular celebration we see today. Most neighborhoods across the world clamour to gather treats, costumes and party decorations during the week before Halloween. It’s usually a competition to see who can give or take the most sweets, who has the most ghoulish looking costume, and who comes up with the best party games (pumpkin carving, apple dunking, find-the-sweet-in-the-spaghetti, etc). You come to realize it really doesn’t have any relation to its origin, because the celebration starts and ends on that All Hallows’ Eve. No remembrance, no respecting the dead. But then again, that’s how most of these celebrations go. For most it’s usually an excuse for a piss-up – not that I want to sound like a miserable bastard. I already said that I like history, so I like finding out the origins of things like this.
There won’t be any Halloween celebration for me tonight, as I’m not Christian, so I won’t pray for the dead. And I’m too squeamish to dive into the celebration of ghosts and monsters. No, I will be having my biscuits without eyeball jelly tonight.