No one really knows the origins of Halloween but about the only thing we know for definite is that it takes place on the eve of the Christian festival of All Saints Day and also the Celtic pagan festival of Samhain. The word itself was first used in the 16th century in the Scottish variation of All Hallows Even, which itself wasn’t seen until about 1556.
In AD835 the Catholic Church made All Saints Day on the 1st November a church holiday to honour the saints with the Feast of All Hallows – as saints were referred to in old English. The 2nd November is also the Feast of All Souls and from the Medieval period it was customary to hold vigil prayers for the souls of the dead on the 31st October, All Hallows Eve. However, there is no mention of this practice in the Anglo Saxon period or of the 31st October having any particular significance, which rather puts a dampener on any historical connection with Samhain. A further link between the Christian festival and Halloween can be seen in the practice of souling, whereby people would go door to door begging for soul cakes, in exchange for which they would pray for the souls of the donors deceased relatives. Although there doesn’t seem to have been any retribution if a soul cake was refused – please let us know in the comments if we are incorrect on that one though!
The idea that the two traditions blended over time seems to stem from the Celtic pagan belief that the long hours of winter darkness brought evil spirits so the first night of winter meant that barriers between the realms of the earthly and unearthly were weaker. Spirits were, therefore, more likely to be seen on this night.
The things we most commonly associate with Halloween these days , such as dressing up, trick or treating, bobbing for apples, carving pumpkin Jack O’Laterns etc. all seem to have been added at much later dates, from a variety of sources. It is also seen much less as something just for children to take part in, now the grown-ups regularly get in on the fun!
There are many Halloween related words available for adoption, not least Halloween itself! Perhaps you want to own Ghoul or Broom to keep the festivities in mind all year!
Let us know your favourite spooky words in the comments and also if you know any more Halloween Facts.