Let’s be honest; we all want to know the origins of the incredibly daft practice of apple bobbing. But did you know that there is meaning to virtually every ‘silly’ Halloween tradition we partake in?
Whether we’re dressed up as an axe-wielding zombie panda, or chomping our way through a bag of gummy eyeballs, these days Halloween has veered right off the rails of what it once was; an ancient Celtic festival, celebrating the time of the year when the veil between our world and the otherworld was at its thinnest, allowing the spirits of the dead to populate the Earth for just one ethereal evening.
Let’s have a look at some of the themes or traditions of Halloween in comparison with their Pagan counterparts.
Note: It’s not completely certain how some of these traditions arose. I will just share with you the theories that are widely believed.
- The name: Halloween of course comes from the name ‘All Hallows’ Eve’ or similar. But the even more ancient name is Samhain (pronounced ‘Sow-in’) which is actually the name I prefer to think of it as, and is also the name still used by Neo-Pagans. Samhain is Gaelic for ‘Summer’s End’ and like many Celtic Pagan festivals, was a celebration of the beginning of the darker half of the year.
- Death: Samhain was also the day that barrier between the land of the dead and our Earth, was crossable. This meant that the spirits and faeries, and otherworldly creatures in general, could walk amongst the living. The modern celebration of Halloween has taken this ‘death’ theme to be grim thing, with people covering themselves in fake blood and brandishing weapons. However, Samhain saw it as something more spiritual, and whilst many people feared the spirits, some used the festival as a chance to commune with their passed loved ones.
- Jack-o’-lanterns: Perhaps the most famous trademark of Halloween is the carved pumpkins, or Jack-o’-lanterns. This tradition originated in Ireland, and has been practiced for centuries. Both pumpkins and turnips were carved with grotesque faces to ward off the spirits outside.
- Costumes and trick or treating: People commonly laid food out on Samhain in an attempt to placate any spirits. It is not completely certain how Halloween costumes originated but one possibility is that it began as people mimicking the souls of the dead that were roaming, going from door to door, and collecting the food on the spirits’ behalf.
- Apple bobbing: This tradition is supposed to have some Roman and Celtic origins and actually possesses a more romantic meaning, and was used to foresee who was to marry next, or to determine the suitability of a match.
- Frankenstein: Just a small point I want to clear up; Frankenstein is not a giant green monster with bolts sticking out of his neck. Frankenstein is actually the name of the scientist who created the monster; the actual creature itself remains nameless in the 1818 book by Mary Shelley.
So when you’re putting on your Mario or ‘Sexy Turnip’ costume, try and remember the true meaning of Halloween. Have a good night, and blessed be!