The origins of Halloween
You may have heard of All Saints Day or Day of the Dead, which has been popularised in recent years in family films like Coco or The Book of Life. Established to pay respects to those who have passed, All Saints Day on November 1st was popular with the Celtic festival known as ‘Samhain,’ which celebrated the end of summer (or end of the harvest in other parts of the world). Day of the Dead is still very popular in countries like Mexico on November 2nd.
So, on October 31st, with the seasons changing, the Celtics believed that the barrier between the ‘other’ world and their own became thin, and would give a greater ability to connect with the dead before their return. It was thought these evil spirits would come to earth to haunt the humans and destroy the harvest. To banish evil spirits, people would light bonfires, dress up to ‘ward off the ghosts’ that were coming the following day, and put out ‘offerings’ for the spirits and souls due for return in November.
That said, not all the spirits were thought of as bad – the Celtics would also leave out food offerings and light candles along the road for their ancestors or friendly spirits to find their way back to the ‘spirit world.’
This night, October 31st, was referred to as ‘All Hallow’s Eve,' with ‘hallow’ meaning ‘to honour as holy’, and ‘eve’ or ‘een’ as the night before. So basically ‘Halloween’ means the ‘holy evening’ or ‘Eve of All Hallows.’
Why do we celebrate Halloween in Australia?
Well, you could put it down to globalisation – the ever-present media attention to Halloween in books, TV shows and films that we watch from the US, the availability to shop for Halloween goods easily online, and, well – it can be fun!
Even though its origins were from Pagan Celtics, with roots around the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, these traditions were brought to the US with Irish immigration in the 19th century, and popularised into the rituals we know today – much like St Patrick’s Day or Valentine’s Day before it.
Why do we dress up in Halloween costumes?
On the night before All Saints Day, that we now know as Halloween, the Celtics would dress up as evil spirits to ward off ghosts, often to try and confuse the ‘real’ demons from coming to get them.
Traditionally, Halloween costumes would still have some sort of ‘spooky’ element – ghouls, witches, ghosts and wizards – although these days, any kind of costume can apply!
Why do we go trick or treating?
As far as trying your luck on a neighbour’s door for a snickers bar or being sprayed with a water hose, this tradition came from children who were dressed in the aforementioned outfits to ward off demons, and would go door to door for food and money on behalf of the dead. This was referred to as ‘souling,’ where the ‘soulers’ who knocked would offer their prayers for the souls in exchange for food such as 'soul cake.' In the early 20th century, neighbours would give children treats – in an attempt to ward themselves off from any tricks from the pranking youngsters!