Halloween, Samhain and Allhallowtide

Three lit jack-o-lanterns with faces

Photo by William Warby, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 31: From mulled wine and apples to costumes and candy, deck the halls with fright and get ready for the spookiest night of the year: Halloween!

Drawing on ancient beliefs of wandering souls and spirits at this time of year, some traditions of Halloween shadow the rituals of an early Gaelic festival known as Samhain, which resonated across Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Today’s Wiccans observe Samhain as a Sabbat, while Pagans—including Neopagans and Celtic Reconstructionists—attempt to observe its rituals as close as possible to their original form.

For Christians, the triduum of Halloween recalls deceased loved ones and martyrs; secularly, Halloween is a time for costumes, pumpkins and candy. For centuries, this has been regarded as an occasion when the veil between this world and—the other-world—is at its thinnest point.

HOW BIG IS HALLOWEEN IN AMERICA?

Borough_Market_Halloween (1)

Photo by Rene Cunningham shared via Flickr and Creative Commons.

It’s huge at nearly $7 billion for candies, costumes, decorations and other Halloween items this year. However, Halloween spending by Americans still ranks as only half of what we lay out for Easter (more than $16 billion). The annual retail bonanza remains Christmas with hundreds of billions spent—and the future of many retail giants on the line, each year.

The National Retail Federation’s Treacy Reynolds reports that we’re actually cutting back a bit on Halloween, this year. “The average person celebrating will spend $74.34, compared with $77.52 last year,” Reynolds writes.

The bottom line for retailers, Reynolds reports: “After a long summer, Americans are eager to embrace fall and all of the celebrations that come with it,” NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said. “We expect those celebrating Halloween this year will look for several different activities to do with their family and friends. Consumers are ready to take advantage of promotions on candy, decorations and costumes, and retailers are ready to serve them.”

Why has American spending on Halloween dipped a bit (from $7.5 billion last year)? TIME magazine reports: “More than 80% of consumers polled by the NRF said the economy is having an impact on their Halloween spending, with nearly 80% saying they will spend less overall this year as a direct result.”

SAMHAIN AND IRISH MYTHOLOGY

Born of a pastoral people, Samhain began in the oral traditions of Irish mythology; it wasn’t until the Middle Ages when visiting Christian monks began penning some of the tales. As even the earliest cultures believed that spirits could access our world most easily at this time of year, bonfires were lit to protect and cleanse people, livestock and pastures. Feasts were prepared, and the spirits of deceased ancestors were invited into the home with altars. Evil spirits were kept away with “guising” (costuming to fool the spirits), and turnip lanterns were often set in windows to scare evil spirits or to represent spiritual beings—a custom that likely evolved into the modern jack-o-lantern.

Today, many Pagans and Wiccans keep the widespread traditions of lighting bonfires, paying homage to ancestors, welcoming the “darker” season and preparing feasts with apples, nuts, meats, seasonal vegetables and mulled wines.

‘ALLHALLOWTIDE’

In worldwide Christian tradition, millions still observe “Allhallowtide,” which is the name of this triduum (or special three-day period) that begins with All Hallows Eve and continues through All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. While Catholics, Anglicans and many other denominations still have an “All Souls Day” on their liturgical calendars, many Protestant and evangelical churches have abandoned this traditional three-day cycle.

The most popular of the three holidays in congregations coast to coast is All Saints Day, which falls on a Sunday this year. Millions of families will attend Sunday services on November 1 that include special remembrances of members who have passed in the previous year. Still mourning someone in your community? Show up at a local church observing All Saints Day and there likely will be a time to remember that person.

The word Halloween is of Christian origin, and many Christians visit graveyards during this time to pray and place flowers and candles at the graves of their deceased loved ones. The two days following All Hallows Eve—All Saints Day, and All Souls Day—pay homage to the souls that many Christians believe are now with God. In medieval England, Christians went “souling” on Halloween, begging for soul cakes in exchange for prayers in local churches.

 

Dog Pumpkin Costume (1)

Just one of the many dog pumpkin costumes for sale on Amazon this year.

PET COSTUMES?

An estimated 20 million people will dress their pets in costume this Halloween. Can you guess the most popular costumes for furry friends this year? Pumpkins and hot dogs are the two most common costumes for Kitty and Fido.

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