This year, more than any other so far, the growing interest in celebration for Halloween seems to have increased amongst adults, children and superstores alike within the UK. Any discerning mutterings of European recession from worried Chancellors would appear to fall on deaf pixie ears as Halloween decorations and costumes fly off the packed shelves around the country. Every shop from the local greengrocer to the florist is ablaze with bright orange pumpkins beckoning passers-by to purchase for carving their very own gruesome jack-o-lantern. Even the large branded confectionary manufacturers have jumped on to the ghost-wagon and have created eerily coloured alternatives from their usual family favourites. Within our own household the Cadbury’s ‘Scream’ Egg seems to be the current favourite.
With this phenomenon in mind, I conducted a small –scale survey amongst the shopkeepers within our own village as to why Halloween celebration grows year on year within this country. I wanted to find out where they thought the drive was behind its success ( it’s bigger than Easter in many inner city areas of latter years) ,and why children love it so much.
The general consensus I received was that of success driven by people’s imagination and the vibrant colours used within the merchandise. Everyone appeared to be unanimous in stating the commercial drive had initially appeared from American influence during the 1970’s and 80’s and had grown from there. Halloween is an evening of fun and the sheer joy of ‘trick or treating’ can be found at the top of almost every primary school aged child once October arrives. And as one brave shopkeeper pointed out to me ‘there is something innate within us which loves the thrill of the scare’.
So having observed the current approach to Halloween, I felt it was time to delve into the history of the festival and trace some origins of the favoured games we play on 31st October.
The festival of Halloween actually dates back to the Druids of ancient Britain. The final night in October indicated the end of the calendar year and was believed to be the night the dead returned to earth wishing to visit the living. For this reason people would dress to look like ghosts and spirits in the hope the ‘visitors’ would not harm them in any way. Guises as wolves in woven fur were often used, as well as hooded cloaks for individuals to hide their identities. Rituals would often be carried out on this night to identify any evil spirits within the living also. The Druid’s pagan day was eventually adopted by Christians around 850 AD and made ‘All Hallow’s Day’, or a time of honour for the saints of the church. ‘Hallow’s Eve’ or Hallowe’en was adopted as a major holiday ( in Old English it was known as ‘ealra hālgena mæssedæg’ – mass day of all saints).
Due to this festival occurring around the same time as the Celts flame orientated celebrations of ‘Samhain’, fires have always played a great part in Halloween custom. Since ghosts, witches and other evil spirits were meant to be afraid of flames it was only natural that this was observed on Halloween. Groups of village folk would stand around a large burning fire and throw rocks into the middle. Anyone throwing an exploding rock on this night would be deemed to possess evil within their souls and would be banished from the village to the next.
The use of jack-o-lanterns originally came from Ireland during the early medieval times. There the children hollowed out turnips and potatoes and cut out faces in them to ward off bad spirits. This custom came from the tale of the dead ‘Irishman Jack’ who was not welcome in heaven or hell. In order to light his way to a resting place, he carried a hollowed out turnip with the embers from Hell inside.
Much of the folklore and activity followed on Halloween to date comes from Ireland. This was carried to America between the 17th and 19th centuries when many thousands migrated across to the States igniting the imagination of many homeland children along the way.
Since those original days of religious superstition, Halloween has taken on a life of its own and today we continue to add our own spooky games , ranging from apple-bobbing, doughnut ducking and pumpkin carving competitions. Ladies down the ages have tried out the Victorian ritual of gazing into a mirror at midnight on Halloween, candle in left hand, apple in right, to tell who they will marry. The advent of film has also introduced a great plethora of spine chilling stories to frighten the most hardened of Halloween fans and keep us awake at night.
But one question still remains to be answered…. What do the spirits make of it all when October 31st arrives….?
© Tess Egerton Halloween 2011
One cold dark evening in October, Little Boo was floating home from scare school and looking forward his tea. Mum caught his little ghost hand and turned to him excitedly. “Boo” she said, “do you know what night tonight is??”
“No?!” replied Boo curiously. He could sense something good was planned for the night ahead.
“Tonight is Halloween!” cried mum with a great big grin! And this year on Halloween, daddy and I are going to take you on your first ever spooking expedition!!”.
“What’s Halloween? What’s an expedition?” asked Boo becoming very excited all of a sudden. “Well” explained mum, “Halloween is the only night of the year when we ghosts are allowed to come out at night and make mischief! Our expedition is an adventure where we can visit other people’s houses, walk through walls and surprise people for fun!!”
“Oooh, that sounds wonderful” gasped Boo, becoming more and more excited by the minute.
With that, mum and Boo bumped into daddy ghost, who was waiting around the next corner with a goody bag of ice-burgers and spook juice to keep them happy on their night’s adventures. “Hello Boo”, smiled dad “are you ready for our trip? Now remember, follow mum and I, copy what we do and remember to stick close and don’t wander off on your own!” Boo listened excitedly and agreed.
Mr and Mrs Spook and little Boo then prepared for their evening by curling themselves into vaporous waves and gliding off down the next available dark alleyway. They floated happily along the cobbled streets until they found a nice large house with a big chimney. “Follow me Boo” giggled dad “this’ll be fun!” and with that, dad turned into a wisp of smoke and flew down the chimney at top speed! He was quickly followed by Boo, then mum. Inside the house, a little old lady sat by the fireplace knitting away happily with her black cat at her feet. All of a sudden, Mr and Mrs Spook and Boo spiralled out into the fireplace wailing and moaning eerily. The little old lady had such a fright, she threw her knitting into the air, grabbed her cat and hid behind the sofa shaking. The three ghosts collapsed in a fit of giggles and disappeared. “That was so much fun” shrieked Boo with delight “again, again, oh please mum and dad, can we do another one straight away?”
Mum and dad grinned. “Ok, they agreed” remember, stick close to us.
The three ghosts moved on lightly along the neighbourhood and next came to a small house with a jack-o-lantern in the window. When they peered inside, there was a man on a ladder painting the walls and ceiling. Immediately, Mr Spook saw the mischief to be had and tapped the window. All three ghosts pressed their faces against the glass and frightened the man so much he fell off his ladder, taking the white paint with him. On the floor the poor man was covered in white paint and still looking shocked and shaken. “” Hahaha , goodness me” cried Mrs Ghost “ that man looks more like a ghost than we do”! All three ghosts wibbled and wobbled with laughter.
All throughout the night, the Spook family continued their adventure, scouring the neighbourhood for people to surprise and scare. They popped out from behind lamp-posts, they leapt out screaming from rubbish bins, they floated eerily through walls and they squealed with delight each time they sent another sorry victim flying off into the night with sheer terror.
Near the end of the night, Boo was becoming tired, but still wanted more fun. “Am I good at this mum and dad?” he asked.
“Oh Boo- you’re a natural” they replied. This gave Boo more energy for a little more spooking. He decided as a last treat, he would show mum and dad how good he was by spooking a whole family by himself! On the next street, mum and dad floated on in anticipation of finding one last big prize for the night. Just before they reached the next house, Boo ducked back and floated through the closed door of the nearest house. Inside, the house was full of pumpkins, plastic ghosts, animated witches, furry stuffed black cats and rubber monsters. Boo could hear laughter and merriment coming from behind a wall close by. This would be his chance he thought. He’d creep up quietly then appear suddenly, shrieking his best ghost cry and make the whole party flee through the front door! Wouldn’t mum and dad be proud of him?
Boo started to puff up his chest into his best scary ghost image, he growled his best growl and charged at the wall. On the other side Boo couldn’t believe is ghostie eyes! He was greeted by the sight of the most hideous monsters, scariest witches and creepiest goblins he’d ever seen. They all took one look at Boo and growled back very loudly indeed. Boo instantly fled from the room, not looking back once and disappeared in a puff of smoke up the nearest chimney. Once outside, he hurried to find mum and dad who had realised he’d left their sides and had started to look for him.
” Boo!!” cried mum. What is wrong? Where did you get to?” Boo stood in front of his parents, shaking and shuddering like never before “I, I I only wanted to make you extra proud of me,” he stammered “ I saw the worst monsters ever!” . Dad laughed and pointed to the house Boo had fleed.
“That’s the Gargoyle’s house Boo- every ghost worth his spooking badge knows that they have huge dressing up competitions every year to see who can look the scariest! All haunting is banned from that house little one. “
“Ohhh”, said Boo sadly, hanging his head “I’m never going to make a good spook!” . Mr and Mrs Spook looked at their tired little ghost and felt so sorry for him.
“You are already a great spook Boo” said mum kindly. “You already frightened us by disappearing!”. The three ghosts laughed and boo hopped onto dad’s back for the short ride home, tired but full of memories from his first, eventful Halloween.
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