Halloween ... a far cry from All Souls’ Day now

Moonlight Zombies

Moonlight Zombies

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As I once again trawled the shops for costumes and goodies for my children for Halloween, I tried to remember what the day meant for me back in my childhood years.

While I have faint recollections of a few skeletons and pumpkins hanging around and the odd fancy dress party, there was nowhere near the scale of celebrations we have now come to see as the norm. As for trick or treating, I’d definitely never heard of it.

The “Americanisation” of many of the traditional holidays is plain to see with Valentine’s day, Christmas and Easter also being good examples.

Halloween, though, is in a league of its own. In 2001, £12m. was spent by consumers on ghoulish goodies. This year’s spend will be more around the £200m. mark, with retailers and manufacturers now claiming Halloween is the second most lucrative opportunity of the year for novelty goods outside of Christmas.

The original and solemn intentions of All Souls and All Saints’ Days was to commemorate the “faithful and saintly departed”, which seems a whole world away from the crass nature of today’s celebrations and the huge spend associated.

Celebrated on October 31st, the name Halloween comes from a shortening of All Hallows’ Eve, which is in reference to a Christian tradition, though Halloween actually originates from the Celtic festival of Samhain.

Samhain is the celebration of the end of long summer days and the start of long winter nights, which lend themselves well to the dark and scary overtones we have all come to know and love.

To add to the spookiness, the Celts believed the boundaries between the living and the dead were at their weakest on Samhain and that meant all kinds of spirits, benevolent and malevolent could slip through from the other world to ours on that night. For this reason, good spirits (particularly those of lost loved ones and ancestors etc) were celebrated, while all kinds of measures were taken to ward off evil spirits. It is believed the tradition of wearing scary costumes comes from this, as people could disguise themselves to appear the same as the evil spirits to protect themselves and avoid harm.