Halloween is getting more and more popular worldwide, but fewer and fewer people understand what it originally stands for. To celebrate it in a meaningful conscious way you might wish to know about its roots, how it was originally celebrated, and how children deal with scary stuff . Here are the main points to consider:
Тhe Christian roots of Halloween
Halloween is related to All Saints’ Day
Halloween means All Hallow’s Eve, and that means All Saints’ Eve. All Saints Day (1 November) is a Western Christian holiday introduced in the 7th century.
How is All Hallows’ Eve (Halloween) traditionally celebrated?
All Saints’ Eve (All Hallows’ Eve, a.k.a Halloween) in the Catholic Church is traditionally observed by a vigil. Worshipers pray and fast in preparation for All Saints’ Day, when all believers should attend Church Mass. You can imagine that celebrating the saints – people who lived the most virtuous lives, and some of them actually chose to be tortured and murdered rather than give up their faith – is a solemn celebration for which there should be pious preparation.
You should not be surprised then if you hear about some Christians not willing to participate in modern day Halloween parties and decoration activities, which are quite different in spirit. Being culturally sensitive and inclusive in this case will mean to respect people’s religious feelings and beliefs and not pressure one’s friends to join a Halloween party.
Halloween is related to All Souls’ Day
On 2 November, following All Saints’ Day comes All Souls’ Day. It commemorates deceased Christians and is dedicated to praying for their souls so that they suffer less while they are in Purgatory. Purgatory is the state of the souls which are meant to go to Heaven but are not ready yet, so they go through a process of purification. In order to help these souls people could pray and do good works.
How is All Souls’ Day traditionally celebrated?
Traditionally the Catholic All Souls’ Day is celebrated by attending Church Mass, lighting candles, praying, giving out soul cakes (you can find recipes online) in exchange for prayers for the souls of the deceased – to the poor and to the children who went about from door to door begging for pastries and chanting. Here is the beginning of a traditional “souling” song:
Soul! Soul! Soul-cake!
Please good Missis, a soul-cake!
Apple, pear, plum or cherry,
Any good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Him who made us all.
The announcement for the beginning of “souling” was made by ringing church bells. The most common costumes worn by the children were those of saints and angels.
Тhe pagan roots of Halloween
The original celebration was of Celtic (Gaelic) origin. The Christian Church has transformed some pagan traditions to incorporate them or it has replaced them by Christian traditions. Halloween is one of them. Some of these traditions were adopted by the Church as they were seen as harmless. However, some were considered harmful, but they were so popular that the Church did its best to replace them. Halloween is one of the latter.
Originally, Halloween was called Samhain and marked the change of seasons, ushering in the darker half of the year. Samhain was the god of the dead and came to collect the souls of the people who had died during the year.
This is a liminal, threshold period, when the boundaries between the world of the living and the world of the dead and the spirits are easily penetrable, and otherworldly creatures, as well as ghosts of the dead, can enter our world. People tried to appease these spirits by offerings or to ward them off. One of the ways to protect themselves was to dress up as the scary ones so as not to be recognized as human – in order to avoid being attacked or kidnapped.
One of the most disturbing aspects of this holiday was violence and sacrifice. In fact, Romans (e.g. Julius Caesar) left written accounts of such scary practices of the Celts (including cannibalism), but even if we do not take the Romans’ word, we might consider trusting modern science. Some scholars claim that both animals and human beings (including children) were sacrificed as Halloween comes directly from the Druidical cult. There is no clear consensus on the ritual murders during Samhain, but there is clear archaeological and forensic evidence that Celts (through their Druid priests) did practise ritual murder and sometimes even cannibalism. A concise introduction into the topic could be the National Geographic documentary “Secrets of the Druids”. Bear in mind that the documentary shows a lot of gory scenes.
Children and spooky stuff
It seems that there is a growing number of parents who have issues with traditional folk tales and prefer not to expose their children to them or to have the tales purged, censored and even drastically changed before they are offered to children. Parents do this because they are concerned about their children’s mental well-being.
It used to be different for some of us. We (middle-aged to elderly generations) grew up with parents who did not have any misgivings about the traditional / classical stories their children heard, read and shared. On the other hand, we were not exposed to visual horrors or involved in impersonating scary characters. The only exception to the latter was occasional participation in plays, and usually most kids preferred to take the roles of the good guys; besides, the plays were never really horror plays.
We feel that what we have heard from some psychologists and education specialists might indeed be true: that children need the scary in order to develop the right mental “hardware”, but they should be exposed to it in the right way. The right way seems to be listening and reading to tales in a safe, calm atmosphere, preferably with loving caring adults. In this way children will overcome their irrational fears. The wrong way is to offer kids scary videos; what is worse is to leave them watch these on their own. Instead of helping them overcome their fears, in the latter scenario we are planting more of these into kids’ minds. We suppose getting children physically into a scary scenario might be even more problematic, but honestly, we have not explored this topic yet.
What we know for sure is that pretend play created by children themselves, even if it involves scary scenarios, can be therapeutic and help kids process their fears, etc. Here are several resources (from our blog) that might be of use if you are willing to research pretend play, fairy tales, scary stuff and Halloween.
Last but not least, we would like to point out to the issue of aestheticizing the evil and the scary, as well as denying its existence. We believe this could really confuse children and compromise their mental well-being.
Scary fairy-tales present a clear distinction between good and evil, and children easily make the choice to root for the good guys and the good deeds. That seems to equip children with the ability to make better judgments in situations when they face ambivalence. They might be torn between liking or disliking a witch, but at least they will be on the alert for the moment when an ambivalent character or situation will grow overtly dangerous.
In traditional scary fairy-tales evil is always punished – the big bad wolf is killed, not sent away. Children do understand the deeper symbolic meaning, albeit subconsciously, and when they hear the end of the story, they have a peace of mind, knowing that this particular evil is done with and will not come back to threaten them. They also learn that evil should be dealt with, and there are people who are equipped to deal with it. Children do wish to become such people, that is to grow up, be good, strong and resilient, do good, and help others.
If you are interested in the Halloween figurines in the photo, follow the link to our full Halloween decoration and toys collection.