How attitudes to Halloween have changed

So it’s almost back to school time for all of the nation’s children after the half term break and Halloween celebrations, and it’s that time where teachers always ask their students what they did for Halloween.

When I was a kid many moons ago now, kids used to dress up in all kinds of spooky costumes and (along with their parents) used to go trick or treating round their neighbours houses, mostly with their neighbours’ permission first (wouldn’t want to be begging people you don’t know for sweets now would you?). Then there would usually be some kind of party where all these spooky monsters get together and have a good time. The adults tend to go a bit overboard but it’s all in good fun.

Well, a lot of that seems to have changed as technology has advanced. These days kids aren’t so keen on Halloween. I’ve asked kids that I’ve taught in the past what they did for Halloween and more and more often the response I hear is ‘I played on my xbox one or playstation 4.’ It is interesting to note that they were playing games that involved killing zombies (I would like to add that these children were primary age).

What I think disappoints me most about Halloween is how little children, and in some cases adults, know about what Halloween really is in celebration of. It is believed that Halloween is a pagan rite dating back to a pre-Christian festival. Actually it really has nothing to do with Paganism at all. In fact Halloween is actually a Christian festival. Halloween in fact falls on the day before the Feast of All Saints or ‘All Hallows’ on November 1st, hence Halloween is known as All Hallows Even (which was contracted into Hallowe’en). It didn’t use to be November 1st mind, it was moved there by Pope Gregory III to fall in line with the completion of the All Saints Chapel in Rome.

The feast itself spread from France quickly across the rest of Europe in 998, but what is interesting is that the abbot of a powerful monastery there added a celebration on November 2nd, where it became customary to bang pots and pans to remind those who went to hell that they weren’t forgotten, as it is well noted that they were often left out of celebrations as it was predominantly those who went to heaven or purgatory that were celebrated.

This doesn’t of course explain why we dress up in such costumes as we all see today. Well we have the French in the 14th and 15th centuries and British colonies in America around the 1700s to thank for that. One of the most well known events to hit Medieval Europe including France was the Black Death, destroying vast numbers of the population. This caught the attention of the Catholics which gave rises to Masses on All Souls Day, and artistic representations were devised to remind everyone of their mortality. These artistic representations became known as ‘Dance Macabre’ which translates from French as ‘Dance of Death’ and shows the Devil leading all kinds of people from popes, kings and knights to lepers and peasants into the tomb. The French dressed up in the garb of various states of life, but this was on All Souls Day, not Halloween which the Irish had, they didn’t dress up. This became a British tradition when the French and British colonies in America started to intermarry.

Trick or Treating however was not one of these events that became famous. That was where the British colonies rather unwittingly added to celebrations. This actually came from the foiled effects of the Gundpowder Plot on November 5th 1905. When Guy Fawkes was captured and arrested, in the penal periods, bands of revelers would put on masks and visit local Catholics in the dead of night demanding beer or cakes for their celebration. It’s become somewhat kid friendly since but the process is still the same as we know today, albeit it was moved to October 31st to join the Halloween celebrations.

The most recent addition to the celebrations came in the 1800s: witches. They actually were added in by the greeting cards industry when they tried to get in on the Halloween act, which of course didn’t really work out as we don’t really see them nowadays. The witches still stayed though.

The biggest mistake however comes from ill-informed informists who thought that Halloween was Pagan in origin, and that is what we know as the jack-o-lantern. The pagans did use to carve out vegetables to make lamps as part of Celtic harvest festival, but guess what folks? It wasn’t even pumpkins, it was turnips they used to carve out. So not only was it a mistake in origin, they didn’t even get the vegetable right.

So for all those who don’t know why Halloween is celebrated, I hope that I’ve cleared a few things up a bit.

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