Halloween is often viewed as a traditional American custom, a custom whose influence is spreading around the world. Nowadays from Europe to the Far East, fancy dress costumes and “trick-or-treating” are an international phenomenon but the roots of the night go deeper than expected. This year, we took a closer look at the ancient origins of this autumn festival to discover some surprising sources of today’s traditions.
According to Peter Tofoksvy, a UCLA assistant professor in folklore and mythology, the earliest known antecedent is the Celtic New Year celebration of Samhain. There was a dark theme to this festival, much like today, as Samhain translates as “the end of summer”. This was the end of the harvest and the start of a potentially dangerous winter, a time when many would perish. It was also a spiritually significant time, when prophecies for the new year would be made by druids and priests.
Costumes were worn, (typically animal heads and skins) but for very different reasons. On this night, it was believed that the realm between the living and the dead overlapped, and spirits could return to earth. Some scholars describe the belief that spirits would come to search for a living body to possess, and so the origins of costuming was either to scare off or to confuse a passing spirit. Other academics ascertain that spirits were coming to be entertained by the living, and that this was all part of the fun. Samhain, also known as “The Feast of the Dead” was a time of banquets, and communal meal around large, symbolic bonfires. These academics suggest that fires were to light the way for the spirits who could be guided to the spectacle the living were putting on for them.
Samhain was to merge with the two day Roman festival, Feralia, a celebration of the dead. According to many, on the second day, Pomona was celebrated, a goddess of fertility, fruit and trees. Many believe the modern day tradition of apple bobbing can be traced back to Pomona as apples were her symbol.
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Book tickets here and select Saturday 27th October or Wednesday 31st October for our fun-filled and spine-tingling Halloween special!