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Halloween Special: The Origins of Halloween

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Here at Earnest writes and the Invincible Quill Magazine we would like to wish you all a happy and spooky Halloween, with this special article from one of our amazing writers here at the Magazine, Lesleigh Hart. We hope you enjoy.

In the Western world, Halloween is the harmless prank night of the year when you get dressed up as a ghost and get free candy from your neighbours.  Historically it is one of the oldest traditions observed throughout the world and is known by numerous names such as All Souls Day (Italy), Day of the Dead (Latin America), Festival of Lights (Hindu Diwali new year), Hop-tu-Naa (Isle of Man) and the Hungry Ghost Festival (China).  

Hollywood has used Halloween’s supernatural features across various movie genres, including comedy, family and horror.   The Addams Family (1991) and the Scary Movie franchise (2000 – 2013) are great comedy examples. E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) are classics under the family movie genre.  My personal favourites are terrifying horror movies which, over time, have included The Exorcist (1973), Halloween (1978), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Crow (1994), Sleepy Hollow (1999), House of 1000 Corpses (2003), The Babadook (2014), and Get Out (2017).

So where did the worldwide celebration of the dead come from?  The European origin of Halloween is based upon an ancient Celtic tradition called Samhain (Samain) or summer’s end in Gaelic.   Valid records are sparse but it was known as a time to gather resources for the long winter months ahead. Samhain’s focus was nature’s rebirth through the changing of seasons.  Celtic tribes did not worship anything resembling a god but may have thought the ancient mounds (sidh) would reveal the underworld.   

The evolution of Samhain to Halloween is convoluted.  Dressing up or ‘mumming’ first appeared in literature in the 15th century.  ‘Mumming’ or ‘guising’ was practised in Britain and Ireland on Hallowmas. This ‘souling’ involved poor people knocking on doors and asking for food in exchange for prayers for the dead.   Additionally, All Saints’ Day (All Hallows’ Mass) and Samhain were observed at similar times of the year.

The Celtic Samhain tradition had long vanished before the Inquisition’s focus on supernatural entities.   The Inquisition spanned from the 12th Century to the early 1800s and was created by the Catholic Church to punish those deemed to be heretics.   During this time it was infamous for its persecution, torture and murder of Jews, Muslims, Islamic Moors, Lutherans, Protestants and countless women accused of witchcraft.  

Another Halloween metamorphosis occurred when Irish immigrants came to North America in the early 1800s.  By the late 1800s this children’s holiday involved standard escapades such as tipping over outhouses and egging houses.  Due to this unruly behaviour dressing in costume was encouraged and became the custom by the 1930s. Bobbing for apples became de rigueur as a method of fortune telling regarding whom you would marry.  Additionally women would look in the mirror at midnight by candlelight to wait for their future husband’s face to appear.  

Throughout the ages supernatural entities came to be associated with Halloween, to its final format where it is recognised as a commercialised fun day of trick-or-treating for both adults and children alike. 

Article By Lesleigh Hart

Edited by Belle Dowson & Daisy Cabret

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Article is part of our impressive Invincible Quill Magazine.

Happy Halloween!

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