Looking at Halloween again

Three years ago now I wrote an article about the history of Halloween, you can read it here.

The Telegraph today had an editorial entitled “Why has Hallowe’en eclipsed Bonfire Night“, with the author blaming the “American holiday” for the change.  He was surprised his views weren’t supported by the British folklorist, Doc Rowe, who said:

First there was Samhain, the Celtic marking of the onset of winter, which was associated with the lighting of fires in honour of the dead, and gave rise to a cluster of customs collectively called Hallowtide. The medieval church denounced these as diabolic and supplied its own sanctified versions in the form of All Saints Day (November 1) and All Soul’s Day (November 2).

”But,” says Doc Rowe, ”by tarring Hallowe’en with an occult brush, the church made it an occult event.” The church’s disapproval fostered the growth of those parts of Hallowe’en associated with japes and misrule, a remnant of which is Mischief Night, which occurs in pockets of the North of England on November 4.

These customs of ”world-turned-upside-down” leaked back into the Christianised Hallowe’en, especially in the form of Soul Caking, practised on All Soul’s Day. Poor Christians would offer to say prayers for rich ones in return for food – and you can see how there might have been trouble if the rich didn’t play along. Soul Caking is, for Doc Rowe, a sort of pre-Disneyfied trick or treat, and it was taken to America by Scottish and Irish emigrants in the mid-19th century.

So the origins of Halloween are Celtic tradition, and Trick or Treat comes from a Christian custom exported to America.  Now all I need to work out is why American costumes tend to be either Hollywood Horror (gory but not scary) or Celebrities (daft but not scary).  Maybe I should start a campaign to keep Halloween scary!


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