October 31 is usually a day of dress up parties, trick or treating and decorating or carving pumpkins, but celebrations of Halloween could be on hold this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic still posing a high risk in many countries around the world, celebrations could be taken indoors, but what will that mean? Is there a way we ‘should’ be celebrating Halloween? Maybe now is the perfect time to think about what this ghoulish day really means to each one of us.
How Halloween Started
Historians have linked Halloween to Samhain, the Celtic festival of the summer's end celebrated in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man. According to Celtic mythology, the veil between the Otherworld and our world thins during Samhain, making it easier for spirits and the souls of the dead to return.
Christianity incorporated the honouring of the dead into the Christian calendar with All Saints’ day on November 1st and here is where the name starts to reveal itself. According to the online etymology dictionary, it’s actually 2 words merged together. Hallow, or holy person, refers to the saints celebrated on All Saints’ Day. The een part means the ‘eve’ or evening before. Halloween is just an old-fashioned way of saying "the night before All Saints' Day"
How Halloween is celebrated can vary depending on your local culture, so let’s have a look at how other people might be celebrating that are different to our usual festivities of trick or treating:
The Swedish have only been celebrating Halloween – as we know it – since the early 90s.
Although they do celebrate the same Christian ‘All Saints’ Day’ they commemorate the dead through a tradition known as att tända gravljus which means to “light grave candles” for the spirits in the darkness.
Halloween has recently been introduced to China through foreign influences. However, the more popular way for Chinese people to remember the dead are through celebrations in cultural festivals such as the Hungry Ghost Festival; a traditional Bhuddist and Taoist festival held on the 15th night of the seventh lunar month of the year.
In Mexico, the culture there means they celebrate ‘The Day of the Dead’ (el Día de los Muertos), a day where families welcome back the souls of their deceased relatives for a brief reunion that includes food, drink and celebration. It’s celebrated each year on November 2.
Like Halloween, on the Day of the Dead, it’s believed that the border between the spirit world and the real world thins or even dissolves. During this brief period, the souls of the dead awaken and return to the living world to feast, drink, dance and play music with their loved ones. In turn, the living family members treat the deceased as honoured guests in their celebrations, and leave the deceased’s favourite foods and other offerings at gravesites or on special ‘worship sites’ built in their homes.
Halloween is not celebrated in Korean culture. Instead they have a similar celebration called Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day). Like Halloween it is focused on the dead and it is customary to visit the places where ancestors used to live and to feast on traditional Korean food.
Like the USA, the Halloween celebration began with Scottish and Irish immigrants, who brought the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain with them to their new country. Canada actively celebrates Halloween each year on October 31 as part of their culture and reflects the Halloween as we know it in the UK, with decorations, pumpkin carving, costumes, and trick-or-treating.
Let us know how you will be celebrating and remembering your ancestors this year by dropping us a message in the comments below, or send us a DM via @wearewo_uk