All Hallows’ Eve

By Saida Hafsa Rafique

Halloween is upon us, some of us have parties planned and are thinking about which costumes to wear. Some are making a conscious decision to stay indoors. For others, however, it is a ritualistic time. We all enjoy the day in our own ways, be it by buying discounted candy, cranking up our makeup skills or watching a grim horror movie like some daredevil.

Whether you believe in what Halloween is all about or you are in it for the celebration and scary movies, the history behind it is captivating, nonetheless.  

The word Halloween originated from All Hallows’ Eve, the evening of All Hallows’ Day, meaning All Saints’ Day. All Hallows’ Eve came about from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which was celebrated on October 31st to November 1st in Ireland, Scotland and Isle of Man. 

Samhain marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, which is also known as the darker half of the year. Samhain was believed to be a time when the ‘doorways’ to the otherworld or spirit world opened, allowing supernatural beings and the souls of the dead to pay a visit. 

So, what do you do when you know ghosts or supernatural beings may visit you, and feast with you as if they pay rent?

You party, that’s what. But there is a reason for that. It is believed that when the spirits visited, they needed to be won over by doing something that pleased them, so that the people and the livestock could survive the winter. And hence, food, crops and drinks were left outside for the spirits. It is also said that the souls of the dead revisit their homes seeking hospitality. There were feasts, where people invited the souls of their kin to join them and left a place at the table for them.  

I don’t know how ready I am for my dead ancestors to join me for dinner, not for any other reason than I don’t know how pleased they will be with just a toastie. 

It is also said that the spirits visiting, made it easier for the Celtic priests to predict the future. Through the long, dark winters, these predictions were their source of comfort and direction. 

Guising was also a part of Samhain, where people dressed up in costumes to go door-to-door and recite verses in exchange for food. The costumes were said to be worn to imitate a spirit or even to disguise one.

It is said the early spread and influence of Christianity in the Celtic Lands, where it gradually blended with the Celtic rites, made what is known now to be Halloween. The church made November 2 as All Soul’s Day, a day to honour the dead and with time the All Hallow’s Eve became known as the Halloween we celebrate today. 

The belief that souls come to revisit family is not too far-fetched and it is celebrated in many cultures, for example, Day of the Dead in Mexico or Boon Pare Water in Thailand. 

Americans alone spent $9 billion on Halloween last year and that figure is only expected to increase. The UK spent £419 million, but that that grown exponentially from the £230 million in 2013.

And while that’s more evidence of the commercialisation of Halloween as a holiday to spend money on than a celebration of the dead, it also plainly shows that All Hallows’ Eve, as it always has been, is a very big deal.