Hair-raising Halloween Traditions (boo!)
Do you ever wonder where traditions come from? Like who ever came up with the bright idea to make gingerbread houses out of icing, a milk carton, and candy that can spread all over the floor? Not only does the icing not stick well enough if made slightly incorrectly, but you have to have the patience to stand there holding the graham crackers to the milk carton for what seems like hours before it dries and you can get to the fun part. Oh the fun part? The fun part for my nieces and nephews is picking all their favorite candies to stick to their gingerbread house. The fun part for me? You can’t actually ask me because you wont get an answer – I’m too busy crawling on the floor picking up minute sprinkles with a wet paper towel. It’s also fun to watch the kids open the packages of candy too hard and too fast and the entire package explodes all over the kitchen. Has this ever been your experience? Again, whose bright idea was it to create such an exhausting tradition? But on a more serious note, I love my kids, and as messy as things get, I would never change the traditions that I grew up with that now my brother is passing onto his kids, my nieces and nephews.
This idea of traditions sparked my interest when it came to the “holiday”, Halloween. Where did the holiday come from? Was it always about ghouls, goblins, ghosts, and trick-or-treaters dressing just like them? Did the tradition originate from family roots just as many traditions seem to do?
According to History.com, “Halloween’s origins date back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred. On the night of October 31 they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.”
Traditions in other countries, although different, seem to reflect a central theme – and now make a little more sense based on the origin mentioned above. In Mexico, families celebrate El Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead. The country celebrates and commemorates family and friends who have passed away, and this celebration lasts three days from October 31- November 2. Sounds like fun! Why can’t the US celebrate for that long?! In Hong Kong, people celebrate “Yue Lan” or the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts. Traditions include burning pictures and money in the hopes they will reach their ancestors and offer a sense of comfort. Food is offered to those spirits who might be angry and plan to come back for revenge. Austria honors Halloween by leaving out bread and water along with a light to welcome souls who have passed away.
Overall, I see a common theme of welcoming spirits and honoring loved ones who have passed on. It’s so interesting to me that a tradition that began by Celts from 2,000 years ago can still be a living tradition today.
Although Halloween traditions began in Europe, there are a few European countries that have just recently started recognizing Halloween. England celebrates Guy Fawkes Night on November 5th to commemorate the execution of an English traitor. However, recently, Halloween has been growing in popularity in England. Whether celebrated on October 31st or November 5th, the traditions of the celebrations seem to be similar to the ones we have already seen such as ghoulish costumes and home decorations. France is another country that has not been celebrating Halloween until recently. Costumes and decorations have become more popular. The possibility exists that Halloween didn’t pick up in France as fast as other countries because the French celebrate La Toussaint on November 1st to commemorate loved ones who have passed away. With the days being so close together, and the idea of the celebrations being so similar, it’s possible that some French families see no need to celebrate two days in a row.
Regardless of the country and the traditions, it sounds like universally we all want to honor and celebrate those that we miss that have passed away. I think traditions like the ones celebrated on Halloween, although possibly influenced and hyped-up by consumers, are rooted in the right idea – to commemorate loved ones. I’m not sure if I can say the same for the deep-rooted meaning of making gingerbread houses… but I’ll get back to you on that one.