Saturday, 1 November 2014

Pumpkins and Halloween

'I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion' - Henry David Thoreau 'Walden' (pond)

I thought it was time to re-read Walden. I bought it some years ago after hearing of Thoreau's quotes constantly and especially from Dead Poet's Society. I read it once - and it is quite a read. I understood about 10% of it, but I marked out all the quotes that were special to me. I am only up to page 59 this time, but already I am understanding a little more and finding more quotes that I never noticed the first time (like the one above - and quite topical seeing is Halloween in some countries of the world).

I am often annoyed by my fellow Australians who claim Halloween is an American tradition that we should not even bother to celebrate - that it is Americanisation creeping into our everyday. I know this is not so. Why even Agatha Christie wrote about it in several of her books and she was far from being American, and started writing in the 1920's.

'All Hallows Eve' was first found in print in the 1500's in England, coming from a Scottish term. By the 1700's it had been shortened (contracted) to Hallowe'en and then Halloween. The tradition is believed to have originated with the Celts - though debatable whether this was the Christian Celts or the Pagan Celts. But certainly the  Celtic-speaking world from Ireland, Wales, and Europe based on folklore carried forward from hundreds of years prior to the 1500's. The festival was held around 31st October - 1st November as a celebration to the end of the harvest, and the first days of the darker half of the year (Autumn/Winter), when fairies and spirits were more likely to be active.

Nuts and apples, bonfires, guising, and playing pranks and games were all parts of All Hallows Eve, all having deep significance to the individuals involved, with some variations in different countries or areas.

The rise of Christianity in England and Europe overlapped with All Hallows Eve - where the Christian celebration of All Saints Day (also known as All Hallows Day) on the 1st Nov and All Souls Day on the 2nd Nov, thus the holiday on the 31st October became known as All Hallows Eve.

By the end of the 12 century, Christians were ringing church bells and having parades of people dressed in black in the streets to celebrate 'souls' who had passed, making and exchanging cakes for christened souls (soul cakes), believed to be the beginning of 'trick or treating'.

In parts of Britain these customs and celebrations were lost during the reformation (considered as Pagan beliefs or considered wrong that souls could come from Heaven or on their way to Heaven to attend the celebrations), and other changes of Church, and after 1605 Guy Fawkes Day (5 Nov) saw many Halloween traditions shift to that day, until the traditions pettered out and Guy Fawkes Day stood alone.

Some Christian groups took the traditions of Halloween to America (in the 1600s - 1700s), where Christian faiths battled over whether to celebrate the 31st October to the 2nd Nov as a Christian holiday. The Puritans of New England would not. But following mass immigrations from Scotland and Ireland in the 1800's to America re-established the tradition and from then on it was celebrated on the 31st October.

The Halloween tradition or parts thereof, are still celebrated in Italy, Spain and France where gifts of food are left out for souls who have passed and graves are visited.

The American version of Halloween focuses more on the giving of gifts and the guising (dressing up) rather than the inclusion of souls who have passed, and is therefore more showy perhaps than the same celebration in Europe.

It is certainly not, however, an American invention.

see more: Wikipedia

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