© Denzil Green
The 31st of October is the day when the veil between this world and other worlds is thought to be thin.
Oblivious to this, children dress in costumes and go door to door for candy.
Hallowe’en celebrations generally involve a spooky theme, invoking the traditional colours of black and orange.
People decorate the outside of their homes with decorations that can be homemade but which increasingly are purchased. The decorations are often augmented by sound effects and fog machines.
By their early teens, children usually give up trick-or-treating — though Hallowe’en parties are now very big with adults. And costumes are no longer just spooky ones: they might be popular characters from popular culture. Tricks are being de-emphasized now as they got out of hand.
Hallowe’en is celebrated the most in North America. It’s celebrated here and there in the UK, Ireland and in Australia and New Zealand. Many scrooges in these places think it’s all nonsense. In Ireland, it takes place during a school break called “Hallowe’en Break.” It’s not all that popular in the south of England, where it is overshadowed by Guy Fawke’s Day on 5th November. It is more popular in the north and in Scotland. The south of England, though, is starting in some places to celebrate it in a North American fashion.
In Ireland, this was traditionally a meatless day. A hearty dish such as Colcannon would be made, with prizes hid in it, and Barm Brack.
Hallowe’en has its origins in Samhain. On the day of the dead, the Celts would wear masks to scare off the bad spirits, and leave out food to attract the good ones. In the old days, carved turnips were used at this time of year, put on doorsteps to scare away bad spirits. But people moving to the New World, who had access to pumpkins, quickly switched to them as they were easier to carve, and showier.
In Scotland at Hogmanay (New Year’s), groups of children used to go door to door reciting poems in exchange for goodies. The trick or treat tradition developed in America. The “trick or treat” greeting emerged in America in the 1920s, and started becoming common in the 1930s.
Food items include:
- spooky looking foods
- bobbing for apples
- pumpkin pie
- candy apples
Literature & Lore
“Second Witch: By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes. Open, locks, whoever knocks….
Macbeth: How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags! What is’t you do?
Witches: A deed without a name.”
— William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616. Macbeth. Act IV, Scene 1.)
“Upon that night, when fairies light
On Cassilis Downans dance,
Or owre the lays, in splendid blaze,
On sprightly coursers prance;
Or for Colean the rout is ta’en,
Beneath the moon’s pale beams;
There, up the Cove, to stray an’ rove,
Amang the rocks and streams
To sport that night;
Amang the bonie winding banks,
Where Doon rins , wimplin , clear;
Where Bruce ance rul’d the martial ranks,
An’ shook his Carrick spear;
Some merry, friendly, countra-folks
Together did convene,
To burn their nits, an’ pou their stocks ,
An’ haud their Halloween
Fu’ blythe that night.”
— Hallowe’en. Robert Burns. 1785.
“I can’t very leave the subject of Scottish parties without mentioning Halloween. When I was in my teens, the games we played were more important than the fare. We used to sit cross-legged on the floor round black gypsy pots full of fluffy mashed potatoes and sup them with wooden spoons. There were charms embedded in the potatoes. If you came across a sixpence it guaranteed you wealth, if you found a ring you were the first to be married. The button ensured you single bliss, and so on. Then we used to ‘dook’ for apples in a tub of water and play forfeits, fortified by lemonade and cocoa and home-made biscuits. Sometimes we danced to the tinkle of a tinny piano. When I grew older the fare at Halloween parties became more elaborate – sandwiches, lobster and oyster patties, jellies, creams and trifles and claret cup, and dancing, consequences and forfeits passed the evening away.” — from Elizabeth Craig’s The Scottish Cookery Book, 1956.
“It was Irish migration that brought to the US a variety of folk myths and merrymaking to October 31. More often it was with talk of fairies and the “good people” rather than sinister demons. Scottish migration, meanwhile, brought Caledonian customs to Canada. Renderings of Robert Burns’s Tam o’ Shanter and Hallowe’en kept the memory of dancing witches fresh in Scottish culture. When the ghoulish element in Hallowe’en supplanted harmless superstitions long associated with the day — games designed to foresee who a maiden might marry and children ducking for apples — is open to debate. By 1900 US college freshmen had turned it into an evening of high jinks, and only by the 1920s were witches’ hats and black cats a standard part of their decoration.” — Stewart, Graham. Past notes: Hallowe’en parties are all the rage. London: The Times. 31 October 2009.
Hallowe’en is a contraction of “Hallow Eve”, as “All Hallow’s Eve” was called in Ireland.