On the last night of the autumn harvest, the world changes from the sunny warmth of summer to the cold dark of winter, the land from fertile to barren. The ancient Celts believed this transition gave supernatural forces a chance to break through into the world of the living, and their evil mischief to flourish.
They came to celebrate the
night leading into winter as Samhain (meaning “summer’s end”), the festival widely considered to be
the precursor of Halloween. On Samhain night, the Celts believed, the spirits of
people who had died in the past year would walk among the living, so. villagers
put out food and sweets to pacify these spirits – a ritual that may have
preceded trick-or-treating. (There is no hard evidence, however, that Samhain was
indeed a festival of the dead, points out historian Nicholas Rogers, in his
book Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night.)
Although Halloween has pagan
origins, its name is derived from the Christian holiday “All Hallows Eve”, or the
evening before All Saints’ Day (1 November). The holiday itself was adapted by
Christians who hoped to stamp out paganism, and over the years, some of the
darker aspects of Halloween have been replaced by more light-hearted, family-friendly
festivities. But Halloween’s ties with the scary and supernatural still hold
strong today, in celebrations all over the world.
In Ireland, arguably the holiday’s
birthplace, Halloween is still greeted with excitement each year, and it is
celebrated with fireworks, monkey nuts (another name for peanuts) and barnbrack.
a fruitcake with different charms baked inside. If your piece has the ring, romantic
fortune is in your future; if you get the coin, it’s piles of money for you –
but if you get the rag, you’d better start tightening your purse strings.
Soak in Halloween history at
the Samhain Festival at the Glasnevin Museum in Dublin (26 October to 31 October). Highlights include
a gravedigger’s tour of Glasnevin Cemetery and a Samhain storytelling supper.
Cemeteries are also big attractions
during Día de
los Muertos in Mexico. The Day of the Dead is an indigenous holiday dating back
thousands of years that honours deceased ancestors. When the Spanish spread Catholicism throughout Mexico,
the day was moved
to coincide with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (2 November), hence the close
connection with Halloween. Common rituals involve wearing skull masks – the Aztecs originally kept and displayed
loved ones’ skulls – and making shrines adorned with flowers, candles, pictures
and food for the dead.
Currently, the city of Aguascalientes
is hosting Festival Cultural de Calaveras, or the Festival of Skulls, from 28 October to 6
November. It is a colourful festival of art, theatre, music, dance and food,
since Día de los Muertos is meant to celebrate death as a joyous part of life.
In Romania, Halloween is a
major draw for tourists seeking a Dracula themed scare. Several Halloween tours take visitors to Transylvania’s vampire haunts, and you
can also go in search
of the real Dracula in Wallachia.
In the United States,
Halloween means costume parties, trick-or-treating, harvest festivals, haunted houses,
pranks and more, with both young and the old getting in on the fun. The Punkin Chunkin world championship is a pumpkin-launching competition
held every year in Delaware. For a fantastically frightful experience, head to
State Penitentiary, a former prison in Philadelphia, which recreates a
creepy atmosphere for its annual Terror
Behind the Walls haunted house.