At first cock-crow the ghosts must go. Back to their quiet graves below. – Theodosia Garrison
Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble. – Macbeth, Shakespeare
Ah, Halloween. I have to admit, it’s one of my least favourite observances during the year. It’s the candy, really, that puts me off. Oodles of it, and hours of trying to persuade my children to regulate their intake, to no avail. Not surprisingly, it’s the one holiday in the year that my kids look forward to the most.
Halloween, as we know it, is about 2,000 years old, rooted in the Irish Celtic celebration of Samhain, when the lighter half of the year (summer) met the darker half of the year (winter). The ancient Celts believed this is when the veil between this world and the other world was the thinnest, and therefore allowing the souls or spirits to return.
Celts honored and welcomed their dead ancestors, but warded off the harmful spirits by wearing costumes and lighting bonfires. The costumes and masks disguised people and protected them from the evil spirits. That custom has survived two millennia, and was introduced to North America during the Irish diaspora in the 1840s.
That’s why we dress up on Halloween.
According to Mark Tikac of Grammarly, “hallow” is an Old English word, halgian, which meant “to sanctify.” Used as a noun, it meant “holy person” or “saint.” The “een” ending is a short version of “eve” and so Halloween is often referred to as All Hallow’s Eve.
As the Romans spread Christianity throughout Europe, honouring the dead became part of the Christian calendar: November 1 is All Saints’ Day and November 2 is All Souls’ Day.
In South America, the days of the dead – October 31 to November 2 – merges the Christian observance with pre-Christian traditions. Marked with dancing, masks representing the dead, and lots of sugar candy shaped like skulls, the celebration represents the brevity of life and that death is not to be feared.
Interestingly, Hindus mark their new year, Diwali or the Festival of Lights, around the same time as Halloween, which is a celebration of the Celtic new year.
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