Halloween: has the “scariest” holiday fallen prey to commercialism?
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If you go into any supermarket or discount shop this week, I can almost guarantee there will be shelf upon shelf of fake blood, plastic tarantulas and some form of gothic goblets.
But how did these brightly coloured gimmicks stem from Celtic harvest celebrations? And why do they have such importance across the globe today?
The Gaelic festival Samhain was first Christianised in the 5th century - and it started to gain some spookier connotations: phantoms, spirits and such, eventually earning the name “All Hallow’s Eve”.
It was said that departed spirits and faeries would cross into the human realm on this night, tempted by the arrival of ‘the darker half of the year’. Carved pumpkins were illuminated to scare away these evil spectres, whilst the more striking bonfires supposedly warded off the devil.
Unlike other celebrations with its pagan roots, All Hallow’s Eve continued well into the second millennia, with more and more traditions being added and removed constantly.
Although you could argue that Halloween has more cultural significance in America today, it was actually introduced there by European settlers.
It was in this time period that the holiday underwent its most drastic changes, with the separation of British and American cultures and adding other European cultural twists into the mix.
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Aspects of Halloween like apple-bobbing and pumpkin carving may serve as quaint reminders of years long passed, yet can we truly say that the festival we celebrate today is one and the same as Samhain?
All ancient festivals must move with the times to remain relevant, but Halloween seems to have gone further than all others. Where there was once fear and folklore , there is now pop culture and kitsch.
Whether you are a fan of the 31st of October or not , we have to admit that it has evolved into something unrecognisable from its humble origins…
Here are a few traditions from centuries past if you you want to resurrect something a little different this year:
- Try carving turnips instead of pumpkins for a Scottish twist;
- Fruit-bobbing (a Roman addition inspired by Pomona, the goddess of fruit);
- Light a bonfire and admire the insects that are attracted to the light, and the bats attracted to the insects if you’re lucky (this Samhain tradition is the reason why bats are a symbol of Halloween today);
- Celebrate the 30th of October as Mischief Night , a day for jokes and pranks in Northern England. It may be seen as an excuse for vandalism for some, but a new lease of life could add a spin on the negative undertones of this day. See it as April Fool's with an autumnal twist.