Celebrated on the 31st of October, Halloween is a much anticipated festival in Western countries but has yet to make a mark in India. It supposedly has its origins in an ancient Gaelic festival called Samhain, roughly translated to mean “summer’s end”. On this day, the borders between this world and the Otherworld were believed to become thin, allowing spirits to pass through them and enter the world of the living. To ward off evil spirits, people would wear masks and costumes which would later inspire the elaborate fancy-dress parties that are now intrinsic to Halloween celebrations. The term itself was originally spelt as Hallowe’en, short for All Hallows’ Evening, which we now know as All Saint’s Day. Though Halloween precedes All Saints’ Day by a day presently, there was a time when both events used to take place on the same day. In fact, Halloween used to be celebrated on May 13th but the date was shifted to November 1st to coincide with the Christian festival of All Saints’ Day by the Church in an effort to dilute the pagan connotations.
The Jack-o’-lantern was initially a device to scare off evil spirits like the costumes and masks. The ancient Celts believed the head to be the most powerful part of the body since it contained the spirit and the body and hence, would place skeletons carved out of the “head” of vegetables like turnips and rutabaga on their window sills to protect themselves from ghosts.
The popular custom of “trick or treat” has surprisingly grave origins. It is possibly inspired by the practice of “souling” which was practiced in the Middle Ages by poor people who would go door to door and receive food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls’ Day. The custom firmly established itself with Walt Disney portraying it in their cartoon. Later on, UNICEF even conducted a national campaign in US for children to raise funds while doing the rounds on Halloween, asking for “trick or treat”.
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