Halloween Geographies

For many Halloween is an excuse to dress up as a member of the undead, carve pumpkins and go trick or treating. But before Halloween became the commercial event it is today, it was a more meaningful event in the calendar.

A really brief history of Halloween:

  • Origins believed to lie in a Celtic event called Samhain, and commemoration event at the end of Summer. The end of summer was an important turning point in the year as it represented the onset of shorter days, colder nights and this cold dark environment was associated with dark spirits.
  • It is thought the Celts believed that on Halloween night, the spirits of those who had died in the previous year came back to Earth, to search for a body to occupy. To avoid being targeted and then possessed, the Celts would put all the lights of their settlement out in attempt to decieve the spirits that anyone was there, and would dress in costumes that made them look like spirits, and so not suitable to be possessed.
  • Later the Roman’s had their own harvest festival towards the end of summer. Part of this was a celebration of the Goddess Pomona and the harvest of the fruit of the trees. As Pomona’s symbol was an apple, it is believed this is the origin of the practice of ‘bobbing for apples’. The Roman’s had their own festival of the Dead (Feralia), although this fell at the end of the Roman year, which would have been in February.
  • Christianity was introduced to the British Isles around the 2nd century AD. The earlier Christian missionaries were willing to adapt to local customs, and it believed that the Celtic October festival was incorporated into Christianity.
  • In the 700s, Pope Boniface IV set November 1 as All Saints Day—a day to honor Saints and Martyrs. The day was also known as All Hallows, and the previous night, All Hallows Eve. November 2 was named All Souls Day, and was set aside to honor the souls of the dead. The three days together were called Hallow Mass. It is thought that Pope Boniface IV did this to covert the pagan Celtics to Christianity.
  • All Hallows Eve, of course, was later termed Halloween.
  • Halloween would have travelled to North America with the early colonist settlers.
  • Colonial Halloweens were essentially Harvest Festivals, with lots of eating and drinking, music, dancing and ghost stories. It is believed that some of the more modern Halloween symbols were introduced at this time, as traditions were blended with Native American harvest festivals. Corn stalks and pumpkins, which would have been completely unknown in Europe before the discovery of North America, became part of Halloween imagery.

This is a very simplified version of how Halloween developed into the modern day event that it is today, at least in the US and UK. Around the world, Halloween has many different traditions.

  • Austria: People would leave bread, water and a lamp on Halloween night as it was believed these would welcome dead souls back to earth for the night.
  • Belgium: Candles are lit in memory of the dead.
  • China: Halloween is known as Teng Chieg and the festival involves places food and water in front of family members who have died, and lanterns are lit so they light paths of the spirits as they travel to earth on the night of Halloween.
  • Czech Republic: Chairs are placed by the fire place, one for every living member and one for each family members spirit.
  • Germany: People put their knives away for Halloween night as they do not want to risk the returning spirits to come to any harm.
  • Japan: Similar to Halloween, the Japanese celebrate the ‘Obon festival’ (sometimes known as ‘Matsuri or ‘Urabon’) which is dedicated to the spirits of deceased family members. Candles are lit and placed into lanterns which are set afloat on rivers and lakes.
  • Mexico: It is celebrated as El Dia De Los Muertos, which comprises of a three day celebration beginning on October 31. During this festival, the dead are though to return to their earthly homes on October 31, so many things are laid out to make them feel welcome: photographs, candy, decorations, the deceased’s favorite food among other thing.  On November 2, families will gather to decorate the resting places of the departed.  There is also usually a parade, where people dress up as skeletons, ghosts and other haunted characters. Spectators will often throw fruit, flowers and candies at the participants.

These are just a few of the ways in which Halloween is celebrated around the world.

However you are celebrating…Happy Halloween!

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