Halloween: a Trojan Horse?

Qual è la vera origine di Halloween? E’ davvero una festa nata negli USA?

Perchè la nostra insegnante madrelingua Clare lo reputa un Trojan Horse? Scopriamolo insieme!

Why seeing Halloween as a Trojan Horse?

As a 30 years old with a dislike of consumerism, I find it difficult not to see Halloween as a Trojan Horse, promoting the sale of plasticky witches hats and fake blood and children blackmailng their neighours for sweets, while masquerading has a meaningful tradition.

Halloween roots

Halloween

Delving a little deeper, Halloween’s roots are more complex.

Despite taking its name from the Christian festival All Saints Day, or All Hallow’s Day (Halloween is a contraction of “All Hallow’s Eve” – think Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve), the open celebration of the ungodly supernatural doesn’t seem in tune with the puritan pilgrim fathers and the American culture they began.

It was the Irish and Scottish immigrants!

HalloweenIn fact, it was Irish and Scottish immigrants in the nineteenth century who brought Halloween to the United States. The Scottish poets Robert Burns and John Mayne wrote about Halloween in the 1780s, but many of the traditions, including attracting spirits with lanterns made from hollowed out turnips (pumpkins are native to North America), dressing up and going to other houses to exchange songs for food (called mumming and guising – could that be humming and disguising?) and funny pranks were practiced long before, in particular in places with stronger Celtic influence.

A Celtic pagan festival

HalloweenThe fine line between welcoming and demonising unholy spirits has, in my opinion and also in that of many historians, all the hallmarks of a Celtic pagan festival re-branded as a Christian one, easing the transition into Christianity. In fact, the Gaelic (Irish) and Welsh words for Halloween are the same as those for the ancient Celtic festival which marked the beginning of winter, the night when the veil between the natural and the supernatural worlds is thinnest and most easily crossed by spirits, faeries and possibly ancient gods or the ghosts of relatives. Traditions included bonfires and apple bobbing*, which, although not amongst the most famous aspects of modern commercial Halloween, bring back happy memories from my childhood.

Apple bobbing
Apple bobbing

Fun, awe and unease: the pagan version of Halloween

HalloweenDespite the many sweets I’m sure I ate, it is the mixture of fun, awe and unease from the pagan version of Halloween, that I associate most with the festival. In late October, I used to spend the week-long school holiday with my extended family in Wales, in a lonely, off-grid house lit only by gas lamps and candles. With no neighbours to trick-or-treat, we stayed in, telling scary stories by the candlelight and playing games involving ghosts, monsters and peeled grapes disguised as corpses’ eyeballs. Even in our modern world, in which ghosts are scientifically improbable and street lamps remove the mystery of the night, children in the spooky darkness of an autumn night can feel the proximity of the supernatural that, there or not, was also felt by our ancient ancestors.

*apple bobbing consists of putting apples into a bucket of water and taking it in turns to try and extract one using your teeth (no hands). Not very covid friendly

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