Halloween’s huge in America and we tend to think of it as an American-inspired cash grab that has no relevance here, but that’s not quite true. It’s not widely known that Halloween isn’t American. Halloween evolved from the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhein (pronounced sow-in) and its origins date back 2000 years mostly to Ireland, the United Kingdom and Northern France where their new year was celebrated on November 1. This date marked the end of summer, the start of the autumn harvest and the coming of winter. We all know how bitter Northern winters can be and 2000 years ago this season generally meant an increase in human deaths. The Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the living and the dead became a little blurred and the ghosts of the dead would revisit the living. Mystery and superstition has always been part of Halloween! October 31 was therefore designated the date when the living would dress in scary costumes and light lanterns and bonfires to keep the ghosts of the dead from returning to earth. At the end of the evening, when the Celts returned to their homes, they would re-light their hearth fires (extinguished earlier in the day), from the village’s sacred bonfire to keep them safe from spirits throughout the coming year.
Over the centuries, despite or maybe even because of the advancement of the Roman Empire, Halloween not only survived, but now infused with other festivals of Roman origin, it thrived. One such festival was Pomona, a day to honour the Roman Goddess of Fruit and Trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple (the French name for apple is ‘pomme’) and as this festival was absorbed into Halloween, with it came the fun (and frustrating) tradition of bobbing for apples.
So how did Halloween become ‘so American’? Well, when America’s east coast was first settled by Europeans, it was, as the name New England suggests, settlers from Britain that arrived, bringing with them, their traditions. Originally Halloween was more popular in Maryland but as more settlers arrived from mainland Europe and spread out across the continent, Halloween took on a distinctly American feel moving more towards ‘play parties’, which were public events celebrating the harvest. The second half of the 19thcentury saw the devastating Irish potato famine and the influx of millions of Irish immigrants helped popularize Halloween nationally.
Probably the best-known aspect of Halloween is ‘trick or treat’ which commenced when costumed Americans would go door to door asking for food or money. Over the years this practice was seen unsavoury and therefore discouraged, as were many of Halloween’s core practices such as wearing scary costumes. The Fun Police were certainly out in force. But during the post-war years, when times were tough and people were looking for some light-hearted fun, many of those previously discouraged practices such as wearing scary costumes, trick or treating – where families could prevent tricks being played on them by giving neighbourhood children small sweets treats – and all the parties, fun and frivolity that came with them returned with gusto. Halloween was reborn! While here in Australia we tend to think of Halloween as just another show of crass American commercialism, our strong British, especially Irish heritage, means that Halloween has always played a role, even if it was kept with the Irish communities. Today, however, Halloween is gaining in popularity both as a commercial venture and as a community event.
Some fun facts about Halloween:
- Did you know that 25% of all sweets sold annually in America are purchased for Halloween?
- Originally you had to dance for your ‘treat’
- Halloween is the highest grossing commercial holiday after Christmas
- The first Jack O’Lanterns were not made from pumpkins but turnips, potatoes and beets
So, whether you’re a fan of tricks, treats or history, bring the family, dress in costume, have your face painted, carry a basket for sweets and treats and join the R&R Team for some Halloween fun in our wonderful local community!
TRICK OR TREAT WITH R&R PROPERTY
When: Thursday October 31
Where: R&R Property office: 73 Cowper Street Stroud;
Time: 4.30pm for face-painting
6.00pm we start our walk-around!