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Past Events – Simpsons Halloween Special
Thursday 31 October 2002
Led by Audrey Simpson

This session was so interesting that I am forced to record it here for posterity!

The upshot

Halloween has changed a lot through the centuries, including what it meant, where it was celebrated, and its relationship with Fireworks Night on 5 November. Customs have changed, and much of the original celebration and meaning has been lost.

Here are some of the key points made and raised, but I may have forgotten bits! Please take a look at the BBC Online article too, and if you're interested in finding out more, search the web for "history of Halloween" or similar.

The Christianisation of Samhain

Samhain (pronounced "sow-enn") was the Celtic festival marking the New Year, or the transition from light to darkness. The word means "summer's ending", and was the time when outdoor activities were curtailed.

As with Christmas, which was the pagan midwinter festival, the Christian Church decided it would be a good idea to "Christianise" this event, rather than trying to simply outlaw it. So they called 1 November "All Saints Day" or "All Hallows Day" (to hallow means to make holy), and 31 October became "All Hallows Eve" or Hallowe'en.

A common way of celebrating was that Christians – yes, Christians – would dress up as witches, wizards, demons and so forth as a way of poking fun at the beliefs associated with the festival, as if to say "look - they have no power, God is supreme"!

Over the years, though, these ideas have largely been lost but the traditions remain.

How a turnip became a pumpkin

Originally turnips and not pumpkins were used to make what were known as Jack o' Lanterns. The name comes from an Irish folk legend about a man named Jack who was allowed neither into heaven nor hell.

However, since Europeans went to America, they found that pumpkins were in more plentiful supply and easier to carve, so they used those instead. Somehow that tradition has crept back across the pond.

Read the full story at the following BBC Online article.

Trick or treat?

Also came the idea of "trick or treating". Previously children would call at doors on 31 October, dressed as witches and so on as they do today, but instead of threatening a trick, they would attempt to earn themselves treats by doing little performances or acts for the people they met.

What about Christmas and Easter?

The "Christianisation" of these festivals is also largely in decline, to the point today where it is hardly evident at all except in churches themselves. Have we come full circle as we did for Halloween?

More to read

Another very good article to read on this subject (4 page Word document)

All this and more made a good discussion and talking point for the rest of the BANG! session, and it's a good thing to ponder on. Thanks Audrey very much for leading that session!

Comments and corrections to this article are more than welcome.
I may have forgotten bits or remembered other bits wrong after all!
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