Five of the Week #19

“Trick or treat!!!” – that’s what we’re going to hear today. Today’s Halloween and the shops are luring us into the scary trap by having as much costumes on display as before Carnival. Why buy an expensive costume for just one day? It doesn’t make much sense to me. Anyways, tomorrow’s Halloween and I wanted to know exactly why we celebrate it. So I asked myself some question and tried to find satisfying answers. I hope some of you want to know about Halloween too and I can extend your knowledge (extend your knowledge I will :-)).

1. Where exactly does Halloween come from?
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica Halloween has its origins in ancient Britain and Ireland. The Celts celebrated a festival called Samhain (End of Summer), held on November 1st, where they believed the gods were visible for mankind and playing tricks on them. Therefore, the Celts brought sacrifices because they believed that this way they could counteract the behavior of the gods and overcome the dangers of the winter.

2. How did Halloween spread around the World?
When we think of Halloween we automatically think of the USA. But how did Halloween get there? Irish immigrants to the US retained their old customs in the foreign land. The Americans seemed to like the idea of celebrating Halloween and so they adapted it into their own culture. Today it has become on of the most important holidays in the US and Canada.
Since 1990 France seems to be the point from where Halloween spread over Europe. Why France? I don’t know. But since the 90s one can see Halloween influencing regional customs, e.g. the so-called “Rübengeistern” in Germany, Austria and Switzerland is influenced by Halloween.

3. Why do people carve out Pumpkins and light them?
The Irish did so because they believed that once there had been a villain called Jack Oldfield. Oldfield is said to have caught the devil and later released him under the condition that he, the devil, would never again step into Jack’s way. When Jack died he was, of course, denied access to heaven (as he was a villain) but he wasn’t allowed into hell either (for he betrayed the devil).  However, the devil had mercy and gave him a turnip and live coal so that Jack could wander around in the darkness. With the years the turnip was exchanged for pumpkins because there were so many of the latter grown in the US. The pumpkins became known as Jack O’ Lanterns. Their scary faces shall keep away bad spirits.

4. Why wear a Costume?
As mentioned before Halloween has its roots in the ancient Celtic festival Samhain. At Samhain gods, fairies and spirits were said to be alive and wander about the earth. As some of those spirits were harmful it is a common belief that the people disguised themselves as a protection from the bad spirits.

5. Trick-or-Treat
Who hasn’t heard this sentence before? Today it means that the children go from house to house, say their line and are, most often, rewarded with candy. “Trick” is a threat posed to the homeowners “perform mischief [on them] or their property” (quoted from Wikipedia). However, the wandering from house to house was already know before in Great Britain and Ireland where it was called “souling”. This means that children and poor people went from door to door singing and saying prayers for the dead in return for cakes. Even the wearing of costume is known for a long time. Children disguised themselves in Scotland as early as 1895, then known as “guising”, and went from door to door to be rewarded with cakes, fruits and money. However, saying trick or treat has only recently become common.

Happy Halloween!!!

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