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Get spooked this Halloween

Jack o' lanterns

Jack o' lanterns  

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The clock strikes 12, shadows fill the streets, the dead return from the grave, pumpkins leer at you… but never fear. It’s Halloween!

The howl of wolves can be heard from afar, a draught of cold wind blows around you. If you listen closely, you will hear the silence of the dark night shattered by the cackling of witches. Your windows rattle and you hear strange, creaking sounds…

A shiver passes through you and a deathly cold descends, enveloping your insides… that feeling you get when a ghost passes by.

“Miaaaaoww…” luminescent eyes in the dark — the witch’s cat portends the arrival of witches, and ghouls. Just as beads of perspiration pour down your face and your heart beats so fast that your rib-cage might burst, a jack-o-lantern looms up, its face twisted in an evil grin and a shout follows … “trick-or-treat!”

Don’t be alarmed, it’s the day to revel in trickery and guise, nasty surprises followed by a surfeit of sugary goodness, to cushion the blow. Halloween’s here again!

Celtic memory lane

One of the oldest and most celebrated festivals, Halloween comes from ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ or the evening before ‘All Saints’ Day’. The origin of this fun-filled festival, however, is shrouded in mystery. Dating back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, this day marked the end of the summer and the beginning of dreary, cold winter, often associated with death. The Celts believed that on this day, margins between the world of the living and the dead became hazy, and the ghosts of the dead returned.

Celtic priests built huge bonfires and people congregated, to burn crops and animals as sacrifices to their deities. Their costumes usually consisted of animal heads and skins. When the celebration came to an end, they re-lit their hearth fires, from the sacred bonfire to help protect them during the coming winter.

By 43 A.D., the Roman Empire had conquered most of the Celtic territory. In the 400 years that they ruled, two festivals of Roman origin were combined with Samhain. The first was Feralia, a day in late October when the Romans commemorated the passing of the dead. The second, was a day in honour of Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple. The incorporation of this symbol into the celebrations probably explains the tradition of “bobbing” for apples that is practised as a part of Halloween, as we know it today.

Say trick-or-treat, and your mind instantly conjures up images of delectable candy, mouth-watering apples, and sugared condiments. But pause for a minute, and try to guess how it came to be.

Any guesses? Well, the answer is nothing close to your wildest imagination.

In the second half of the 19th century, the U.S. was filled with immigrants. These immigrants, especially the ones from Ireland who had fled the potato famine of 1846, were instrumental in popularising Halloween. Americans took a leaf out of Irish traditions and began dressing up in costumes after which they would go from house to house asking for food or money. Over time, this practice eventually became the much-loved “trick-or-treat” tradition.

Customs and practices

Halloween is also known by other names – All Hallow’s Eve, Samhain, All Hallowtide, The Feast of the Dead, The Day of the Dead.

In Ireland, Halloween is more of a harvest festival.

In Irish tradition, a lantern was carved out of a turnip. But when this custom was transported to the Americas, the settlers found the already hallow pumpkin easier to carve. So the pumpkin replaced the turnip.

The Jack o’ Lantern is supposed to be the wandering spirit of a man who was refused entry into heaven or hell, in afterlife. He was condemned to carry a lantern and wander the earth. He is a trickster!

It is believed that the colours orange and black and came to be associated with Halloween because orange denotes harvest, and black, death.

Halloween, traditionally, is correctly spelled Hallowe’en.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 9:15:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/kids/do-not-fear-halloween-is-here/article7818208.ece

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