Halloween howls around the world
In just a few days the streets of Rossland will be the scene of an outdoor masquerade of children dressed up as witches, cowgirls and skeletons, among other creative and creepy costumes.
Leaves will crunch under their feet and blow in the late October cold as they rush with bag in hand, ready to sing trick-or-treat door to door.
The young and the old carve out their pumpkins and prepare treats to be given out on this dark eve of eves. Some even decorate their homes and yards with elaborate displays, cauldrons and ghosts swing from the trees, greeting visitors from the neighborhoods as they walk by.
Adults may get in touch with their own inner child, dawn a costume, witch cackle and dance the night away at the local pub’s Halloween bash.
Stores are filled with items like ghoulish masks, make-up and props to add to any characters surreal realism. What mimics “All Hallows Eve” here in the mountains is only a dim reminiscence of what it has been a long time ago…..
Halloween is a centuries old tradition that has its origins in both the druidic and the more modern Christian religions.
The bottom line through all the permutations. though, is a day that spirits might roam or return, a day to respect the dead and keep the bad spirits at bay, and a time to move forward as well. It is a time to venerate our dead and our ancestors, to “hallow” or treat as sacred, including the harvest or earth.
The Halloween traditions we celebrate here in Canada have deep roots that stem from other countries and far off lands. Some are fairly new, others very ancient.
I have had the amazing experience of being in two other countries the Czech Rebublic and Ecuador to be a part of their way of celebrating this time of year.
I thought it might be fitting to share some of the roots and history of Halloween. In doing more research on the internet about Halloween I discovered that the oldest country that it derives from is Ireland.
Halloween originated among the Celts as a pagan harvest festival. Celts used to live not only in England and Ireland, as many think, but in most of Europe (around 500 BC). Celts, according to many evidence, lived in a region that is now the Czech Republic as well.
The Celts associated winter with human death. They believed that on Oct. 31, the last day of the bright half of the year, the boundary separating the dead from the living became blurred. The next day is the beginning of winter.
This day is therefore, based on Celtic mythology, a day when the spiritual world can make contact with the physical world.
Canadians and Americans adopted the Celtic belief that malicious spirits might cross boundaries that night and threaten the community. That may indicate as to why they dress up into scary costumes and spook other people.
Ireland is believed to be the birthplace of Halloween, and they celebrate it every year. In the Irish countryside, people often will set up a huge bonfire, while children dress in costumes and go trick or treating. It is a practice of celebration for their Celtic heritage.
Irish people bob for apples, as well as “snap apples” where people try to bite out of an apple tied to a string and suspended in the air. The Irish also eat the traditional “barnbrack,” a form of fruitcake.
There is an old legend about Stingy Jack. Jack was so mean that he couldn’t get into heaven and the devil didn’t want him either, so he had to walk the earth for eternity with nothing but a lantern made from a turnip with a coal inside it.
He became known as Jack-o-lantern and the tradition of putting lanterns of turnip, beets or pumpkin in windows and doors began. This was to scare away Jack and all spirits who walk the earth. Pumpkins didn’t really become big until a big wave of Irish settlers moved to America where the pumpkin was ubiquitous.
My home roots, here there was no such thing as Halloween as we know it today. Since then the North American influence has touched and changed the neighborhoods.
Back in the ‘97, I spent a month traveling with my Czech family and introducing my then four year old to all her relatives and to learning about her home country. Magical, mystical and ghostly visits to castles from the 1200s and witnessing the age old tradition of Nov. 1.
It actually happens after our Halloween and can go on for a week in length. Aptly named “Dusicky” which means spirits, or otherwise called a “Commemoration of All the Departed”.
It is a time to journey to the graves of those deceased relatives, clean their tombs, replenish fresh flowers, and say a prayer. Afterwards a candle is lit to glow throughout the evening.
The community gathers from far and wide at this time of year and I was in awe of the care and love that is put into these old and beautiful sites.
These are not times to bring out the Ouija board and freak your friends out, but to remember the dead, your loved ones that have passed over the veil. After this emotional ceremony we walked home on a path above the graveyard. It was alight with so many candles from all the visitors; it seems to be so peaceful on such a dark and cold night.
Families would make candles at home and wreaths from dried flowers to prepare for this special event.
Czechs take part saying that dead can speak to the living and vice versa. That is why they go to the cemeteries offering flowers, hoping that the dead will hear their prayer.
In addition chairs and a place is set at the supper feast, one for each family member and one for his or her spirit.
Two years later found me traveling and working in Ecuador exploring cloud and rainforests with my partner and daughter. Traveling with a child gave us a different perspective and living mostly in a remote small village with the villagers opened our views up to the culture. In Ecuador, the day is celebrated on Nov. 2 and named Los Dia De Los Muertos, translated to the Day of the Dead.
It is a celebration which is associated with the dead. It is not held to be a depressing time, but rather a period full of life, happiness, color, food, family, and fun. The main sign of this holiday are skulls and skeletons, which are displayed throughout the cities.
Scenes of skeletons hugging, marching, dancing, and laughing are seen in window displays on the streets.
Marigolds are another significant symbol for the Day of the Dead and are known as the “flower of the dead.”
People of Ecuador celebrate this holiday in their households as well as in the cemeteries. They decorate the graves with flowers, enjoy picnics comprising of favorite foods of the deceased and mingle with others at the cemetery. The common food eaten on this holiday includes pan de los muertos (“bread of the dead”), which is flat bread baked in the shape of skulls and crossbones.
This holiday is believed to welcome the souls of the dead.
As I meandered and researched through many other countries and Halloween traditions there was much information out there, so here are a few more tidbits.
Spain and Mexico
At this time of year, Monarch Butterflies, which have summered up north in the United States and Canada, return to Mexico.
They are believed to bear the spirits of the dearly departed and are warmly welcomed home. In the homes, the family set up an ‘altars’ with flowers, bread, fruit and candy. Pictures of the deceased family members are added.
In the late afternoon special all-night burning candles are lit – it is time to remember the departed.
In the Aztec calendar, this ritual fell roughly at the end of the Gregorian month of July and the beginning of August, but in the postconquest era it was moved by Spanish priests so that it coincided with the Christian holiday of All Hallows Eve.
In Buddhist temples, large boats are made out of paper called “boats of the law” or fa-ch’uan. They are then burned in the evening. According to Buddhist tradition, people both remember the dead and also free the souls who died by accident or were never found for burial, to ascend to heaven by lighting fires. Families place food and water in front of photographs of relatives to give them sustenance.
Families celebrate the day called “Chusok” at the end of August or early September as a time to thank relatives for the fruits of their past labor. Rice and fruits are taken to the temples and left for the dead.
In Sicily it’s rather like our Christmas Eve, when children go to bed on the 1st knowing that in the morning, there will be fruit-shaped marzipan as well as other treats waiting for them in the morning. The dead arise from their tombs and bring them to the children for All Saints Day.
“Alla Helgons dag” is celebrated between Oct. 31 and Nov. 6 with choirs and the lighting of candles at the graves of loved ones. Work gets out early on Oct. 30 as it is considered the eve of this holiday.
Traditionally, some Austrians will leave out a lit lamp, bread and water on the dinner table before they go to sleep on Halloween night.
They believe it will attract the dead souls back to earth, as the night had an extreme commotion of cosmic energies.
So, happy Halloween everyone, keep your children safe and warm. Watch out for the black cat crossing the road, oh wait a minute…. In some countries like Egypt it is considered good luck.
The origin of the black cat and good luck began in ancient Egypt with the sacred black cat of Bast.
Bast is an official deity of Egypt in the 22nd dynasty. During her reign, Egyptians courted her favours, by keeping black cats in their houses, believing that she would become part of the cat in spirit and grace their home with riches and prosperity.
Enjoy all the ghoulish delights that this time of year brings to you!