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Why do we fear ghosts and all things supernatural on Halloween in particular? The customs of Halloween go back centuries and are so deeply steeped in religion and tradition that nothing about this tradition seems strange when you understand where it comes from. Yet, I never grew up with Halloween.

I had never really considered it as part of life until the last decade or two down under. It was something that crept into our culture and became part of every year..... why?

As a child, the end of October was simply that. It was the mark of expectation that Bonfire Night was just around the corner and the promise ( or threat) of crackers down my gumboots was with me yet again.

Yet over recent decades, the idea of Halloween has entered our lives in Australia - albeit in a small way - in comparison to America.

When my girls were little, back in the 70's. I cannot recollect them being great fans of Halloween. In fact, I do not really remember them dressing up or " begging " for lollies ( candy is a lolly in Australia ) and I do not think I allowed them to go knocking on neighbours doors to threaten mischief in exchange for a lolly.


The whole thing seemed a little unpleasant to me. Still, as time has passed, Halloween and its celebration has become part of an Australian tradition, just as it has in other parts of the world.

On Halloween, Redhead used to buy lollies and go out, greet the children, and delight that the kids would come, dressed in their fancy dress and knock at her door. She even took photos of them. 

The little children wandered up her street arrived early, said thank you for a lolly and wandered off to eventually pop off to bed in a happy state and leave the night to the ghouls.



But this is not why I am writing this. It is out of interest that I wondered " what is this fuss about Halloween? "

So I looked and found this article and I republish it here for you. 

For myself, I will stay happily disinterested and, as my late father said some time ago

" All they have done is turned myth into money. "


Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday. Americans spend over $5 billion dollars annually on Halloween.  A quarter of all annual candy sales occur during the Halloween season. What is it about Halloween that makes October 31st so popular? Perhaps it's the mystery, the dressing up...or just the candy?

The word Halloween comes from 'All Hallows' Eve', a Christian term meaning 'All Saints' Evening', being the night before "All Saints' Day". The Christian festival was grafted onto an existing older Pagan Celtic celebration.

The origin and meaning of Halloween is derived from an ancient Pagan tradition of the Celtic harvest festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and Northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and harvest, and the beginning of the dark, cold winter. This time of year was associated with human death. The Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31st, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to Earth. They would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. They thought the ghosts would come back from the dead and create havoc by damaging the crops with frost causing unwanted loss of harvest.


Ancient Halloween

By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered the majority of the Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.

The first was Faralia, a day in late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of "bobbing" for apples that is practiced today. 

By the 9th century the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands, where is is gradually blended with and supplanted the older Celtic rites. In 1000 A.D., the church would make November 2nd 'All Souls' Day', a day to honor the dead. It's widely believed today that the church was attempting to replace the Celtic fesitval of the dead with a church- sanctioned holiday. 'All Souls Day' was celebrated similarly to Samhair, with bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and devils.


Halloween Comes to America

The celebration of Halloween was extremely limited in colonial New England because of the rigid Protestant belief system. It was much more common in Maryland and the southern colonies. As the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups as well as the American Indians meshed, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. The first celebrations included "play parties," public events held to celebrate the harvest, where neighbors   would share stories of the dead, tell each other's fortunes, dance and sing.

Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds. By the middle of the nineteenth century, annual autumn festivities were common, but Halloween was not yet celebrated everywhere in the country.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, America was flooded with new immigrants. These new immigrants, especially the millions of Irish fleeing the Irish Potato Famine, helped to popularize the celebration of Halloween.

Borrowing from Irish and English traditions, Americans began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today's "trick-or-treat" tradition. Young women believed that on Halloween they could divine the name or appearance of their future husband by doing tricks with yarn, apple parings or mirrors.

It was in the late 1800s when there was a move in America to mold Halloween to a holiday more about community and neighborly get-togethers than about ghosts, pranks and witchcraft. At the turn of the century, Halloween parties for both children and adults became the most common way to celebrate the day.

Parents were encouraged by newspapers and community leaders to take anything "frightening" or "grotesque" out of Halloween celebrations. Because of these efforts, Halloween lost most of its superstitious and religious overtones by the beginning of the twentieth century.


By the 1920s and 1930s, Halloween had become a secular (non-religious) community-centered holiday, with parades and town-wide Halloween parties as the featured entertainment. By the 1950s, town leaders had successfully limited vandalism and Halloween had evolved into a holiday directed mainly at the young. Between 1920 and 1950, the centuries-old practice of trick-or-treating was also revived. Trick- or-treating was a relatively inexpensive way for an entire community to share the halloween celebration. In theory, families could also prevent tricks being played on them by providing the neighborhood children with small treats.

Soul Cakes

The American Halloween tradition of "trick-or- treating" probably dates back to the early "All Souls' Day" parades in England. During the festivities, poor citizens would beg for food and families would give them pastries called "soul cakes" in return for their promise to pray for the family's dead relatives. The distribution of soul cakes were encouraged by the church as a way to replace the ancient practice of leaving food and wine for roaming spirits. The practice, which was referred to as "going a-souling" was eventually taken up by children who would visit the houses in their neighborhood and be given ale, food and money.

Turnip Lanterns

Jack O' Lanterns date back to the 17th century

Britain when people would carve faces into turnips. They were known as "turnip lanterns' and were exactly that.

People would cut open the turnip, scoop out the insides, carve a face in the turnip skin and then place a lit candle inside to illuminate the face. During the celebration of Hallomas ("All Saints Day", Nov. 1st), Catholic children would go door to door, carrying turnip lanterns, and would beg for food and commemorate the deceased. It wasn't until the  19th century when the Irish brought over the tradition of carving out pumpkins. This proved to be much easier than turnips and the tradition caught on by the mid-late 19th century.


Orange & Black

Orange and black are often seen as  Halloween  colors. There is ancient meaning to this. In Celtic times, orange  was seen as the color of the harvest. It was associated with the season of harvest and crops. Black was the color that represented the death of summer. These colors came together on Halloween to represent these two things that were being celebrated.

Black Cats


Black cats are a classic Halloween symbol. They have long served as obects of superstition. In medievel France and Spain, black cats were considered bringers of bad luck and curses to any human they came near and were associated with withcraft. Medieval Germans believed themselves to be cursed if a black cat crossed their path from left to right. Black cats, however, have also served as symbols of good luck in numerous cultures. In the British Islands, black cats are often believed to bring affluence to any house they occupied. In Japan, they are also considered to bring good luck. Ancient Egypt, black cats were worshipped as sacred.

So how did black cats come to represent bad luck and spookiness in the United States? It started with the Pilgrims in the Plymouth colony. The Puritan Pilgrims distrusted anything associated with witches and sorcery, including black cats. It became practice to burn black cats on Shrove Tuesday to protect the home from fire. After the anti-witch zeal had subsided in the colonies, black cats had been throughly cemented in popular legend right along with witches.


Medieval folklore also described bats as witches' familiars, and seeing a bat on Halloween was considered to be quite an ominous sign. One myth was that if a bat was spotted flying around one's house three times, it meant that someone in that house would die soon. Another myth was that  if a bat flew into your house on Halloween, it was a sign that your house was haunted because ghosts had let the bat in. 


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The stereotypical image of the haggard witch with a pointed black hat and warty nose stirring a magical potion in her couldron actually stems from a pagan goddess known as "the Crone", who was honored during Samhain. The Crone was also known as "the old one" and the "Earth mother" who symbolized wisdom, change and the turning of the seasons.

Today, the kind, all-knowing old Crone has morphed into the menacing, cackling witch.


The Pegan Celts believed that after death, all souls went into the Crone's cauldron, which symbolized the Earth's mother's womb. There, the souls awaited reincarnation, as the goddess' stirring allowed for new souls to enter the couldron and old souls to be reborn. That image of the cauldron of life has now been replaced by the steaming, bubbling, ominous brew.

Witch's broomstick

The witch's broomstick is another superstition that has its roots in medieval myths. The elderly, introverted women that were accused of witchcraft were often poor and could not afford horses, so they navigated through the woods on foot with the help of walking sticks, which were sometimes substituted by brooms. English folklore tells that during night-time ceremonies, witches rubbed a "flying" potion on their bodies closed their eyes and felt as though they were flying. The hallucinogenic ointment, which caused numbness, rapid heartbeat and confusion, gave them the illusion that they were soaring through the sky.




And for your enjoyment, something from Monty Python. 



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