Halloween – the name comes from the Old English ‘hallowed’ which means ‘holy’ or ‘sanctified’ as in the Lord’s prayer “Hallowed be thy Name.” All Hallows’ Evening, contracted to All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, is a celebration on 31st October, the evening before the Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day, also known as All Saints’ Day on 1st November. The Church traditionally held a vigil on All Hallows’ Eve when worshippers prayed and fasted prior to the feast day itself.
Many of today’s Halloween traditions hark back to the ancient Celtic festival called Samhain, which was a pagan celebration of the end of the harvest and summer. This was a time of preparation for the dark coming winter and a time of superstition concerning the transition from life to death, when people lit bonfires and wore costumes to ward off spirits and ghosts. The festival was Christianised by the early Church. but in today’s largely secular society, people have reverted to the older rituals.
Halloween in westernized ‘culture’ has become horrifyingly commercialised and is a marketing jamboree worth over £1 billion annually. Almost every shop features garish and ghoulish images and objects. The current obsession with fantasy in films and books and the popularity of witches and wizards, has fuelled the Halloween rollercoaster. Pumpkin candles and ghost masks can still be made at home but everyone is encouraged by the hype to buy, buy, buy. Apple bobbing is old fashioned and the children who go round demanding ‘trick or treat’ are often slightly menacing. We are oppressed by images of bats and ghosts. We are subjected to tall tales. It can be a worrying time.
I propose to stay at home tonight, draw the curtains and light the wood-burning stove. And have a good meal and a glass of robust red wine to ward off the dark forces the Halloween industry.