Halloween and All Souls’ Day worldwide practices

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Fall ushered in a series of eventful October activities aptly culminated by one of the most anticipated global celebrations there is, Halloween, a holiday celebrated on the night of October 31. One of the world’s oldest holidays, Halloween ushers in several exciting activities which include trick or treating, ghost tours, bonfires, visiting haunted houses, carving Jack-o-lanterns, reading scary stories and watching horror movies.

If the Germans were known to have introduced Oktoberfest, the Irish immigrants were credited for bringing their peculiar version of the Halloween tradition to North America in the nineteenth century. The holiday was also eventually embraced by other western countries in the late twentieth century.

Halloween is celebrated in several countries of the western world, most commonly in Ireland (where it originated), the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom, Japan, New Zealand, and occasionally in parts of Australia. Later, even Asian countries embraced the tradition that injected more significant celebration of All Saints’ Day and All Souls Day on November 1st and 2nd, respectively. In Sweden the All Saints’ official holiday takes place on the first Saturday of November.

The autumn rite is commemorated in the United Kingdom with a surprising and distinctive British twist. In Mexico, Latin America, and Spain, All Souls’ Day, the third day of the three-day Hallowmas observance, is the most important part of the celebration for many people. In Ireland and Canada, Halloween which was once a frightening and superstitious time of the year, is celebrated much as it is here in the USA, and now in the Philippines too, with trick-or-treating, costume parties, and fun for all ages.

The origin of Halloween

The origins of Halloween dates back to the ancient festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celts, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Northern France, celebrated their New Year on November 1. This day marked the end of summer and the harvest season and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with human death. Celts believed that on the night before New Year, the boundary between the world of the living and the dead becomes blurred. On the night of October 31, they celebrated Samhain, when it was believed that the ghosts of the dead returned to earth. In addition to causing trouble and damaging crops, Celts thought that the presence of the other worldly spirits made it easier for the Druids, or Celtic priests, to make predictions about the future. For a people entirely dependent on the volatile natural world, these prophesies were an important source of comfort and direction during the long, dark winter.

To commemorate the event, Druids built huge sacred bonfires where the people gathered to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to the Celtic deities.

During the celebration, the Celts wore costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each others’ fortunes. When the celebration was over, they would lit their hearth fires which they have extinguished earlier that evening, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them from the coming winter.

By A.D. 43, Romans had conquered the majority of the Celtic territory. In the course of the four hundred years that they ruled the Celtic lands, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with the traditional Celtic celebration of Samhain.

The first was Feralia, a day in the late October when the Romans traditionally commemorated the passing of the dead. The second was a day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruits and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple and the incorporation of this celebration into Samhain probably explains the tradition of “bobbing” for apples that is practiced today on Halloween.

By the 800s, the influence of Christianity had spread into Celtic lands. In the seventh century, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 as All Saints’ Day, a time to honor saints and martyrs. The celebration was also called All-hallows or All-Hallowmas (from middle English Alholowmesse meaning All Saints’ Day) and the night before it, the night of Samhain, began to be called All-hallows Eve and, eventually, Halloween.

Even later, in A.D. 1000, the church would mark November 2 as All Souls’ Day, a day to honor the dead. It was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as spirits, angels, and devils. Together, the three celebrations, the eve of All Saints’ Day, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day were called Hallowmas.

El Dia De Los Muertos

In Mexico, Latin America, and Spain, All Souls’ Day, El Dia De Los Muertos, which takes place on November), is commemorated with a three-day celebration that begins on the evening of October 31. The celebration is designed to honor the dead who, it is believed, returned to their earthly homes on Halloween. Many families construct an altar for the dead in their homes to honor deceased relatives and decorate it with candies, flowers, photographs, samples of the deceased favorite foods and drinks, and even fresh water. Often, a wash basin and towel are left out so that the spirit can wash before indulging in the feast.

Candles and incense are burned to help the deceased find the way home. Relatives also tidy the grave sites of their departed family members. This can include snipping woods, making repairs, and painting the graves white. The tomb is then decorated with flowers, wreaths, or paper streamers. On November 2, relatives gather at the grave site to picnic and reminisce. Some gatherings even include tequila and a mariachi band. Celebrations honoring departed loved ones and family members are found as far back as ancient Egyptian times.

Guy Fawkes Day

On the evening of November 5, bonfires are lit throughout England. Effigies are burned and fireworks are set off. Although it falls around the same time and has some similar traditions, this celebration has little to do with Halloween or the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The English, for the most part, stopped celebrating Halloween as Martin Luther King’s Protestant Reformation began to spread. As followers of the new religion did not believe in saints, they had no reason to celebrate the eve of All Saints’ Day. However, the new autumn ritual did emerge.

Guy Fawkes Day festivities were designed to commemorate the execution of a notorious English traitor, Guy Fawkes. On November 5, 1606, Fawkes was executed after being convicted of attempting to blow up England’s parliament building. Fawkes was a member of a Catholic group who wanted to remove the protestant James from power. The first bonfires, which were called “bone fires,” were set up to burn effigies and symbolic bones of the Catholic pope. It was not until two centuries later that effigies of the pope were replaced with those of Guy Fawkes. Guy Fawkes Day was even celebrated by the pilgrims at the first settlement at Plymouth. However as the young nation began to develop its own history, Guy Fawkes was celebrated less frequently and eventually died out.

Todos Los Santos or Undas

Although largely influenced by the current global Halloween practices, the Filipinos’ sacred observance of Todos Los Santos, commonly termed Undas, remains a tradition which dates back to the pre-Spanish colonization period.

Unique regional practices are observed especially in remote and far-flung barrios where, during All Saints’ Day eve, a group of “soul-searchers” (nangangaluluwa) would go from house to house chanting and singing especially composed songs to collect alms (limos) or home-cooked delicacies from house owners. Later, the group would feast on the food and divide the cash among themselves.

An old practice among the youth during this season is a different style of pangangaluluwa where they would wait for midnight and raid their neighbors’ garden or poultry and steal whatever they fancy. Such unlawful acts could be subject to punishment but the guilty perpetrators could get away from it scat-free. Call it “just for the sake of fun!”

But the traditional concept has gradually changed in keeping with the modern times. The cemeteries has become a perfect venue for family reunion and rendezvous with a wide variety of food and drinks and even eardrum-breaking music especially the affluent ones with mausoleum. If it was spooky to be within the cemetery vicinity during ordinary days and nights, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day offer the place as a multipurpose venue to pray augustly and celebrate festively.

Halloween as a multi-billion business

Because of its increasing universal observance and the increasing amount of money spent for celebration, the great demand for costumes, accessories, food, and decorations to fully experience the very essence of the occasion, Halloween has turned into a solid business opportunity and the fastest rising retail bonanza. In 2009 alone, U.S. consumers spent approximately $5.8 billion on Halloween while in Canada Halloween spending has also increased with $331 million on candies alone.

Halloween now represents the third most important seasonal category behind Christmas and Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day. Statistically, then, business opportunities related to Halloween should have “legs” with a market that continues to grow over time. And to think that Halloween isn’t just for kids anymore but for adults, as well. Huge parties with participants wearing elaborate costumes are becoming increasingly popular. Accordingly, it’s not just young adults who are getting in on the spooky fun but more than 83 percent of young adults ages 18-24 are also deeply engaged in the preparation while 71.3 percent of 35-44 year-olds are also excited to join and hop into the spooky wagon.

Happy Halloween, everyone! For comments and suggestions, please email: [email protected] 

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