The month of October not only symbolises the official start of Autumn, but it also embraces Hallowe’en Night.
And Hallowe’en Night falls on October 31st, the day before ‘All Saints Day’ on November 1st. ‘All Saints Day’ used to be known as ‘All Hallows Day’, which was dedicated to all the Christian Martyrs who had died, while the previous evening was a time of prayer and was known as ‘All Hallows’ Eve - The Holy Evening - which then became ‘Hallowe’en’.
Hallowe’en Celebrations trace their origins to the Celts who looked upon it as ‘Summer’s End’ and the start of winter, when ghosts and witches were likely to roam the earth……..
‘By the pricking of my thumbs something wicked this way comes……’
So said one of the three witches in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’!
And it is a quotation that is likely to be repeated in all corners of the country after dark on October 31st as the nations’ ‘witches’ – both young and old, meet to celebrate ‘Hallowe’en’!
For most people Hallowe’en Night represents a good excuse for holding a party. While officially designated ‘Eve of All Hallows Day’, ‘All Saints Day’ or ‘All Souls Day’, the festival does have a religious significance.
In many minds, however, Hallowe’en is associated with spirits and ghosts, witches on broomsticks, apples, pumpkins and punch, hot chestnuts in a burning bonfire, dimly lit rooms enshrouded in a blanket of fog, and costumed gathering spiced by the heady flavour of the supernatural – all excellent ingredients for a successful party!
It is claimed that a latent actor lies dormant in every man and woman, and that most people enjoy being frightened by spectral portents, while almost everyone likes a party!
Hallowe’en, therefore, would seem to represent all things to all men – an occasion to dress up, to indulge in some spine chilling fantasies, and an excuse for enjoying a good party!
And, as well as being an excuse for ‘private parties’ it’s an occasion that’s marked all over the country by hotels and famous buildings, who stage Hallowe’en events that draw people in their thousands.
Hampton Court Palace, in particular, is planning to introduce ‘Ghost Tours’, the first of which is scheduled to take place on Hallowe’en Night! Entitled ‘See Hampton Court Palace in an eerie new light’, the event includes visits to the palace’s alleged ‘most haunted rooms’ – which are never visited by day. And the renowned ‘Haunted Gallery’ is also featured in the tour.
Americans are said to celebrate Hallowe’en with tremendous exuberance. And it can almost be guaranteed that after dark on Hallowe’en Night, groups of American children – attired in bizarre costumes and masks – will be making door to door tours of various areas, all chanting ‘trick or treat’!
Many Americans claim that they have no idea how this ‘trick or treat concept’ originated. They maintain that the idea was for children to tour the houses in their street, usually dressed as either ghosts or witches, and invite householders to give them a treat in the form of either sweets, candy or apples. Apparently those who refused had to expect having some sort of harmless trick played on them – such as having their cars swathed in toilet paper!
Hallow’en, it seems, is observed with great enthusiasm in the States. It’s regarded as a ‘kids’ night’, with bonfires and parties – celebrations that are not dissimilar to the Guy Fawkes bonfire parties that are held in Britain.
But it’s claimed that this ‘trick or treat custom’ is now less popular in the States - following incidents of people putting stones in the candy that they give to the children.
In the religious calendar Hallow’en is known as the Vigil of Hallowmass. According to one vicar, however, it is a religious festival that is now rarely observed. And, of course, although Hallowe’en is currently affiliated with the church, the festival itself pre-dates Christianity.
One historian claimed that the chief characteristic of Hallowe’en is the lighting of bonfires and the belief that at this one time of the year witches and ghosts are most likely to wander around.
He also maintained that the festival itself was of Druidical origins - with the Druids holding an Autumn Festival, with the lighting of fires in honour of the Sun God to give thanks for a good harvest.
He said too that there was also a further Druidical belief that on this particular night, Saman, Lord of Death, called to collect the souls of those who had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals during the previous twelve months.
And he went on to say that later, the Roman festival known as ‘Pomona’- held in honour if the Goddess Pomona - was grafted into the Druidic Ceremony. ‘The Festival of Pomona’ apparently used to be celebrated at the beginning of November, and featured gifts of nuts and apples – which represented winter stores of fruit.
And he maintained that the roasting of nuts and ‘apple ducking’ – an attempt to seize with the teeth apples that floated on water – were prominent features of this festival. Apple ducking, he said, became a very popular game in the Middle Ages.
It’s claimed that certain Hallowe’en Fire Ceremonies were observed in the Highlands of Scotland and in Wales up until the beginning of this century.
These featured bonfires being lit, with local people gathering in circles around them. Stones would then be placed on the embers, each stone being representative of each person present. The embers would be left smouldering overnight, and in the morning all the people would return to the scene of the bonfire.
And it was believed that any stone that had been displaced in the night portended the death during the coming year of the person it symbolised!
Such grim ceremonies have now been relegated to the past. Instead most present day Hallowe’en Festivals are happy occasions – being ‘fun events’ tinged with the pleasurable spice of the supernatural!
Roberta Crookes has worked as a newspaper journalist throughout most of her life, writing news stories, editorial features, advertisement supplements, and reviews. And in the course of her work she has interviewed many famous people from all walks of life. She has also managed to combine parallel careers in both journalism and acting, and, being Welsh speaking from North Wales, her main television featured parts have been Welsh language roles with BBC Wales.