Halloween, what is it?
Well no-one knows for sure. There are so many theories, legends, myths and Fairy Tales arising from both pagan and religious peoples (and probably atheists, agnostics and many more). And today’s Halloween is a conjoining and blending of all these things.
Whatever you think, most involve the end of the harvest season (summer in the olden days). The time of death; the death of the year, the death of the crops, the death of the animals. All at the end of the year and in preparation of living through of the barren seasons of no new growth. The time when most ancient threads indicate that the veil between the living and the dead is very thin.
The Time of Death
Over the mists of time many versions of the life at those times have decided what Halloween is.
Let’s look at a few.
The Celts believed that border between life and death was thin between the old growing season (autumn) in the northern hemispheres and the unfruitful time of year. This has ended in late October.
Now here is the confusing thing. This is actually spring in Australia ie the southern hemisphere. Even in the unfruitful season doesn’t hold true in Australia. Something always grows and the animals remain strong and sturdy.
Realistically I guess in fact we, in Australia, should celebrate Halloween between the end of April and beginning of May as this is the second time of year the dead are restless. The ‘dead’ in this case being the sealie and unsealie courts (fabled creatures of folklore). Treats for good luck over the fruitful season should be given to them.
OK so, as I said, the Celtic ancients believed as the year was dying the veil between life and death became thinner. Costumes (and don’t see modern day ones – see animal parts) were worn to scare any of the dead back to death – to leave the living alone. Although the presence of these beings were thought to bring visions to the Druids. And with no modern conveniences life often depended on these visions.
This time was called Samhain. Samhain commenced at sundown on the last day of the lighter half of the year and flowed into the first day of the darker half of the year. Hearth fires were quenched to be re-lit at the end of Samhain. Samhain’s dates vary slightly between the north and south hemispheres.
During and after the Celts came the Romans. They had a day, Feralia, to remember all their dead. From what I can find this day could be February or late October!
They also honoured the goddess Pomona (who from her name loves apples). As this festival was in August I can’t imagine how the bobbing for apples, most likely started in this month, ended up in October’s Halloween. As is said anything goes! Or maybe the bobbing isn’t related to Pomona at all.
Later on the church, as it promoted its beliefs, initially (perhaps) designated in the 7th century as All Saints Day. Later on, in the 9th century, history says the day was designated to honour saints and martyrs, again as All Saints Day (at least the Celts didn’t ignore we common folk).
This festival appears to have used some of the Samhain characteristics, however I would suggest the local people would pretty much honour the dead and time in the old fashioned way.
The last evening of the warm season was then known as All Hallow’s Eve. This morphed into Halloween in later centuries.
4) Later Eras
Now where did pumpkins come from? Apparently from Mangel Wurzels, a beet used to feed cattle. Not much different to pumpkins in the fact that pumpkins were originally used for stock feed (at least here in Australia)! Now having taken a look at these little Wurzels I can’t really imagine carving them.
Now some believe this started in the Samhain time and has continued over time to become the Jack-O-Lanterns of today. That is originally they were used to be used to guide the men home after a night at the inn – not usually for fun!
The ‘Modern’ Rebirth
The final (as yet) shape of Halloween is generally now of a community event. Many think it is generally aimed at children but let me tell you, adults have much more fun! I remember friends of mum and dad’s coming to the door. He was dressed as an outhouse. This was so amusing that I can’t even remember anyone else’s costume.
When you opened the outhouse door you got squirted in the eye with, hopefully, water. And that was the shockingly amusing part of the greeting. He did get treats!
And the commercialism thereof! But what fun it could be. (I am not so sure it is now, as due to certain people, it is now considered unsafe to let your children roam the nights of Halloween.)
As a wondering child: the night, the costumes rushing out of the dark and the sudden rush of being scared – if only for a short time. All enhanced by the eerie light of the village’s bonfire. Fireworks a-glowing and exploding and radiating light.
In following years the dark wasn’t so scary but the above excitement continued even when we were all grown up teenagers! And by that time boy were we good with the tricks. We had a lot of tricks up our sleeves but only after the treats!
Descent into the Ultimate in Costume Role Playing
So now, well into adulthood, I must say we adults probably have much more freedom to dress up in weird and wacky clothes and have FUN! We don’t have to worry too much about being affected by those who make sure the fun is removed.
In the past I have made my own costumes, usually at the last moment and often not as well as I wished. Looking around I can now find many places I can get my own. And generally these should last long enough for me to pass them on as pre-loved costumes. A great add on bonus.
Halloween is rapidly approaching.
So take a look around Costume Box (great for Australians) or Amazon and imagine yourself clowning (or maybe ghosting or facing Romans, Druids) around.
PS: You might even receive a free gift from Costume Box depending on your order amount. Cool!
Wow, the Costume Box has an amazing diversity of costumes! I was blown away by all of them!
They even had costumes for Disney’s Moana, which is taking a hit these days in the U.S. for being a “cultural appropriation”… Can you believe that?
What is the world coming to when even Halloween is subject to the “politically correct” social justice warriors! Kids can’t even dress up as their favorite Disney characters.
Oh well…I miss the old days.
I don’t go to many movies but I usually see the 3D children’s ones. They are far more fun than most mature audience ones. I missed Moana though so will have to go and search it out.
I hate politically correctness! If I can laugh at myself and not get bothered why do so many others take offence. Life is too short for that. Soon we will all be mute and stay indoors just in case someone, who obviously has little other life, takes offence.
Yes Costume Box is very interesting and it’s so much better just to choose a costume and not have to worry about making one up.
Apparently Disney’s Moana costume was pulled as people where calling it a “brown face”. Well I loved the old “black face” look because it was comical. I never took it as demeaning to Negros.
I don’t know if you can get it but New Zealand did two series called “Seven Periods with Mr Gormsby”. If you like political incorrectness try getting those.
Thanks for commenting.
Mr. Gormsby is so funny! I luv that show!
Marty, have you seen both series. Our ABC showed the first one. Then too many people, who don’t know how to change channels or turn off the TV, must have complained so the second one never appeared.
I just finished the 2nd series of Gormsby! It caused way too much laughter. Youtube has two years worth available for download!
We have carried copies of these everywhere we go so our friends can catch up. When we got to Canada the format wasn’t reliable. They worked on some computers and not others. I especially took them for dad but neither his TV or computer would play them.
Finally we arrived in Victoria BC where my very good and twisted humour friends (like us) live. The night before we left we decided to try them there. And hey presto the TV played them. We sat through both series until some ridiculous hour of the night!
It’s nice to know about YouTube having them. Thanks
Great article, I really enjoyed the reading!
My daughter is 15 years old, and she dreams of dressing as a scary person. I showed her the article, and she really loves the last costume, which is the clown:) I personally think this outfit is horrifying:) But that’s her choice, and I can not argue with her about it:)
However, I’ll check through your link on Amazon about this costume. We may find some other accessories that go with the clown.
Thank you very much for this excellent post!
The wonderful things about clowns is that they include happy, sad or scary ones. I love all of them but the scary ones best. Don’t worry about your daughter as I think most of us love scary when younger. It is more fantasy than fact.
I hope you can accessorise the costume and I expect you will find some good things to go along with it. And I hope your daughter has a great Halloween.
Thanks for commenting.
Halloween is just around the corner and Costume Box has a lot of nice costumes. Thanks for sharing this.
Your post has interesting facts about how Halloween started. I didn’t know about this website.
Personally, Halloween was not part of my ‘growing-up’ but because I have kids now, I pay more attention to it, especially taking the day-off from work so I can be with my kids and bringing them to trick-or-treat earlier.
Oh yea, the dressing-up is fun too.
Thanks for sharing this post.
Marco, thanks for your comment.
I only discovered Costume Box recently but wish I had years ago (they probably didn’t exist years ago)! My friends have a tendency to have costume parties. Reliving their youth I suppose.
After researching the history Halloween to get some semblance of order, I expect I could have written much more. Maybe an addendum next year.
Nice to see you are trick or treating with your children. Hope you have fun.
Nice article! I read it with the intend of getting some ideas for a costume. Not only do I have some great thoughts of what I can be, I also learned something! Thanks!
Suzanne, thanks and I am glad you learned something about Halloween. So did I writing it. I knew many cultures created in their own style but I really think that has added to the fun.
Now go and be what you can be and look great.
This is easily one of my favorite times of the year and it has been ever since I was just a kid!
While I personally do not dress up for Halloween anymore at my current age, I can see why others like to take the time to dress up as whatever they want.
It is interesting now reading about how Halloween came to be as I did not really know much about the origin story. I especially was not aware of how pumpkins used for stock feed.
My question is, do you have a favorite costume to wear during the Halloween season? Or maybe multiple favorites? Which would those be?
Arie, I have been a number of make believe characters. As I tend to love fun and pranks I have a cheeky devil costume. Sometimes I like to stun people so I have a medusa costume. At other times costumes appear at short notice as one offs.
Don’t worry about your age. If no-one else dresses up talk them into it. Watching adults bobbing for apples is a scream. And doing children’s games like ‘Pin the Tail on the Donkey’, well the tail often ends up in strange places!
Thanks for commenting.
Hey there, halloween s indeed approaching at it’s scary time again with the kids.
Now it makes sense that halloween parties originated from ancient practices especially when the season is changing from fall to winter but unfortunately for countries way south like yours, you can’t feel the spirit of it.
It’s surprising that some props like the pumpkins are originally not designed for fun but for practicality sake. That makes me think about the scarecrows.
Raymond, actually Australia is increasingly feeling the spirit. I guess this shows that the time of year for festivities isn’t always important – it’s the fun of them that is. My mum was from Australia and while she was alive she never even considered cooking pumpkins to eat. If dad wanted them he had to cook them.
I suppose you could say we celebrate the end of the cold times and the beginning of the growing times. It isn’t completely true as many plants such as broccoli grow better in the fall and winter (upside down hey).
Scarecrows are great. Way back in 1967, the southern end of Tasmania burnt out right across the state with many deaths. Funnily enough one village started a festival that we went to on the 40th anniversary. As we drove down to the village scarecrows started appearing along the properties roadside boundary. As we got closer to it, the number of scarecrows increased until they were coming thick and fast. And of course everyone was stopping to take photos. It took a while to get to the festival but what a colourful lead up. I still don’t know how scarecrows equate to the fire but, really, does it matter?
Thanks for commenting.
You have very cool content. Halloween is just right around the corner and I’ve been contemplating on whether or not I should dress up since I’m not a child anymore, but I might consider after reading your posts.
However, I am most interested in your book list. Something I might consider sharing with my younger cousins since most of those books were very popular in my era.
Thank you very much!
Eric, Halloween isn’t as popular over here in Australia but has been gaining lots of interest over the years. Trick or treating is as risky as elsewhere else but that doesn’t effect we adults. So we dress up and party.
The next day does tend to get a bit blurry though but boy do we have fun.
Also when I lived in Canada we did do door duty that night and we always dressed up. The kids loved it – the spookier the costume the better.
Thanks for commenting.
As for my book list, I am quite behind on updating that but if you have any titles from your era and area let me know and I can add them.