All Hallows' Eve

Double, double, toil and trouble;

Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Eye of newt, toe of frog,

Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork and blind worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing.

                                                     (Macbeth by William Shakespeare).

The time has come again, perhaps children’s second favorite holiday of the year. (I think Christmas beats out Halloween by just a bit.) Today Halloween is a holiday for costumes, parties, things that go bump in the night and a new Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial. It is the one time of year where it is acceptable for all ages to dress up in costume and intentionally scare everyone within sight.

Unlike a popular belief, Halloween was not created by the candy companies. Like most holidays, Halloween started long ago to honor spirits and to appease the gods. The name Halloween has descended from All Hallows’ Eve. All Hallows’ Eve was a celebration on the eve of the Celtic New Year, on which the Samhain festival was celebrated.  In Celtic tradition this was the perfect time to start the New Year, the time of the switching of the seasons, from Summer to Winter, and the last harvest of the year.

The festival of Samhain is the end of the last harvest season. This is the time when farmers and herders collect their goods and prepare for Winter months. Food is stocked and inventories are taken. Stock is also slaughtered to prepare the meat for the winter, during which months large herds could not be cared for due to the lack of availability of their food.

It was believed that during this time the souls of the deceased would return to the world of the living and visit their living relatives. While family could return and visit, so could the mischievous and malicious souls as well. Souls were thought to return to their family homes to visit their living relatives. Places at the table or seats by the fire were often set for these visiting spirits. Malicious spirits were thought to cause havoc or seek revenge during this time and they were often feared. It was for these spirits that the costumes were adorned to appease and mimic them (http://www.halloweenhistory.org).

Trick or treating is not a modern concept. Even during the Samhain festival, children would go door to door requesting treats. If treats were not given, the residents would have a trick played on them. Today these pranksters are watched for rigorously. Around Halloween the sales of seemingly harmless items like toilet paper, eggs and shaving cream are monitored. Some places even go to the lengths as not to sell these items to minors in the week or so leading up to Halloween. In some countries parents of these pranksters can legally be prosecuted for the offenses for their children.

Beware the ghouls and goblins that roam free this All Hallows’ Eve!