Halloween was not a holiday I grew up practising, nor did my own kids. Although during their childhood it was starting to appear around the neighbourhood. It is only in recent years that it has become more popular here in Australia to the extent where the shops are becoming full of merchandise, media is all over it and kids everywhere have begun to dress-up and prepare to spend their eveings trick or treating. Adult parties have even become the norm as a great excuse to dress-up and have some fun. A few years ago while I was teaching Kindergarten, one of the children's mum's orgainised a Halloween party at their house and invited the entire class, including myself. It was a huge success. The kids had a fantastic evening, everyone dressed-up and joined into the full spirit of the event. We even took them trick or treating through the neighbourhood. I must admit even I had a lot of fun giving the kids quite a scare in my witches costume as it took them quite sometime to realise that the dark haired witch was in fact their beloved gentle blonde spectacled teacher.
Over and over again I hear people say that Halloween is an American custom and question whether we in Australia should follow their traditions and celebrate it ? So I decided to look into this festival of sorts and draw my own conclusions.
I have always known that Halloween is short for All Hallows Eve, but what I was rather delighted to have confirmed was that All Hallows Eve is a Scottish term for the evening before All Hallows Day. A day to honour all saints, which occurs on November 1 and is followed by All Souls Day on November 2. There is much that can be read on these topics suffice to say, these days celebrate the souls of both the good and the bad that have since passed on, in the hope that with prayer and blessings they may rise to heaven and live out their days in peace. All Hallows Eve became the night to begin the feast in celebration of the dearly departed. This also happens to tie in with the ancient Celtic or Gaelic harvest festival that occured in Ireland on the same date, 31st October, to mark the end of one season and the beginning of the next, that is, winter, the shortest and darkest time of the year. This is referred to as Samhain (pronounced sah-win) where the Celts also believed it was the time of year where the spirits or fairies worlds and ours overlapped causing havoc or possible damage to crops and even ill health to the people of the village. Being the beginning of the winter season it was critical to ensure the crops survival through the long harsh season. Thus a bonfire was prepared and the festival began. Villagers would wear masks and dress-up to disguise themselves in the hope of tricking the spirits so that they could not be recognised. Although souls of "kin" were encouraged to return to rejoice in the festival, food and drink were left aside to help include them. As the villagers rejoiced they would also sing and chant as they visited one neighbour to the next (in thier disguises known as guising)) in return for food,.
Considering my Irish and Scottish anscetry, I tend to rather like this historical take on Halloween and now have a rather favourable outlook on it. I realise there are more suggestions of Halloween's origins from other cultures but as my origins are also Celtic, I felt this was where my heart preferref to stay.
Halloween is only once a year afterall and as long as children understand that it is not just a celebration of all things evil or a way of gathering an abundance of treats, I don't see the harm in having a bit of fun. I understand that some may say we are sending mixed messages by allowing treats like this in this way when we spend the rest of the year trying to avoid them, but everything needs to be in moderation and children need to be allowed to have a childhood. Dress-up with them, get some exercise and walk with them, you might have some fun too! :)
If you don't like handing out too many sweat treats, you can always try this great recipe for "Soul Cakes" originally made for All Souls Day.
Makes 14 large ‘cakes’
- 340g plain flour (sifted)
- 170g sugar
- 170g butter (softened & diced)
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 egg (beaten)
- 2 tsp of white wine vinegar
Traditionally Soul Cakes simply have a cross imprint on them as a decororation however they would be easy to add icing, sprinkles etc to. For the full recipe photographs and further information on their history please go the the link above.