Every year on the 31st of October people around the world celebrate Halloween. A holiday of games, dress-up and spooky stories. But what are the origins of this holiday? What are its traditions? And what does the symbols mean?
The word Halloween comes from All Hollows Evening, or All Hollow’s Eve. It has the origins in the Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced Sah-win). The festival is a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture. Ancient pagans used this festival to mark the transition from Autumn to Winter, often seen as the festival of death. It is a time of change from light to the darkness of winter, and it is believed that on this date the boundaries between our world and the supernatural one is loosened, and this allows the spirits of the dead and other supernatural beings to walk amongst us.
Symbolism of the themes and images associated with Halloween
According to the Irish tradition, a man called Stingy Jack tricked the Devil by making him climb up a tree to get an apple and then carved a cross on the tree’s trunk to prevent him from climbing down until he swore he wouldn’t bother Jack again. As a punishment for tricking the devil, he was neither allowed to go to Heaven nor to Hell when he passed. He was sent to wander the earth, looking for a place to rest, lighting his way with a piece of burning coal that he placed inside a carved turnip.
Later on, when the Irish immigrated to America in the 19th century they found that pumpkins were a better fit for carving. Since then the carved pumpkin with light inside has remained a symbol for this holiday.
Witches & black cats
The witch’s look with a pointy hat, long nose with warts, riding a broom or seen mixing potions in her cauldron is a caricature of the actual witch symbol. This inspires fear and gives people goosebumps thinking of the evil that has been associated with the term witch. Its origins trace back in the Middle Ages when witchcraft has been seen as a form of Devil worshiping and black magic, that caused a mass killing of women accused of sorcery. It was also believed that black cats are familiars of witches, an animal-shaped spirit or minor demon that helped them in their deeds by having magical powers such as shape-shifting. In those times, just by having a black cat it was enough to start an investigation for a witch.
Bats & Vampires
During the celebration of the Samhain festival bonfires were lit to ward off evil spirits which attracted insects and bats. The bat has also been correlated with the vampire myth, promoted by Bram Stoker’s novel in which the bat was the animal Dracula would transform himself into. The association with evil and fear puts these two at an honorable place in the Halloween traditions.
Ghosts and skeletons
Ghosts are said to be the spirits of the dead, often a portrayal of a restless soul inspiring fear of the unknown and the uncertainty of what happens to people after death. These symbols go well with the meaning of this holiday as a death celebration.
Trick or treat
During some celebrations of Samhain, Celts would dress up in animal skins to scare off evil spirits and feasts were set up where food and drinks were being offered to spirits to help soothe them.
Later, people would dress up as ghosts, demons and other wicked creatures and play pranks in exchange for edible goods and drinks. This custom is known as mumming, a play from Middle Ages and is thought to be the predecessor of modern trick or treating.
Apple bobbing is a popular game played on Halloween where the players, with their hands tied to their backs attempt to pick up floating apples from a water-filled container.
This tradition goes back to the Roman invasion of Britain, when the conquering army merged their traditions with those of the Celts, in this case the Samhain harvest festival. The Romans brought with them an apple tree, a symbol for the fruit goddess, Pomona.
Several variations of this game and others involving the use of apples are played on Halloween, each with different meanings and interpretations.
Halloween is now a holiday that most countries around the world has embraced as a day of fun, games and spooky encounters.
For this occasion, we created a coupon code (no trick here, only a treat), that you can use when installing our new PowerPoint add-in that we created in partnership with Microsoft. You can get the add-in from their Office365 store. The coupon will give you access to 50 high resolution images/vectors to use in your PowerPoint presentations. This is a limited offer that you can only use for one month, so we’d suggest you bite on this treat. Coupon code: HALLOWEEN365