Halloween – Myths and Traditions

November 1, 2014 12:00 pm

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When you think of Halloween, candies, costumes and parties may come up in your mind. But there is so much more behind this event. Above everything, there is history and myth.

It has its roots in pagan beliefs. Dating back about 2,000 years, Halloween marked the Celtic New Year and was originally called Samhain, which translates to “summer’s end” in Gaelic. This particular old civilization also believed that the transition from one season to another created a bridge between the world of the living and the dead. In 609 A.D., Pope Boniface IV established the feast of All Martyrs’ Day in honour of the Christian martyrs, and Pope Gregory III expanded it to all the saints as well, and moved the date from the 13th May to the 1st November, called All Saints’ (or All Hallows’) Day. In 1000 A.D. the church would dedicate a day, the 2nd November, to honour the dead, which is called All Souls’ Day. Eventually, the night before the 1st November was called All Hallows’ Eve and later, what is nowadays known as Halloween.

Over the years this holiday has taken traditions from Irish folklore and created new ones. It has become to be more about trick-or-treating and candy than ghosts and demons. But as we said at the beginning, it is also pretty wrapped into myths and superstitions.

On this particular date, the day is filled with magic and mystery. A few of these superstitions date back to Celtic and Medieval times, like the Jack-o’-Lantern and the black cat. In modern times, the real stories behind these myths are not much known any longer, but centuries ago they lived and marked certain periods of history.

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The tradition of craving Jack-o’-Lanterns was a particular and sinister story. Amongst Celtic folklore stories, there is the tale of Jack, a farmer that tricked the devil and suffered the punishment of being stuck between Heaven and Hell. With a turnip given to him by the devil, Jack created a lantern to help him guide his soul in the endless darkness of Purgatory. The Celts believed that craving pumpkins or turnips and lighting them would guide the lost soul home, a tradition that is still practised in several countries.

 

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The black cat superstition dates back to the Dark Ages, around the time of the witch hunts in Salem. Loner women were often the target of witchcraft accusations, and the pet cats were associated with the Devil’s physical presence on Earth, spreading bad luck.

Halloween is a holiday that is celebrated all around the world in several different and particular ways, marked by the culture of each particular place. In Mexico, traditions celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on the 1st and 2nd November. Families and friends reunite to build altars, share their food and photos to celebrate and remember their deceased loved ones. In Austria, from the 30th October to the 8th November, people leave food, water and a lamp on a table before night time, as a way to welcome the souls that rise on the first night.

So wherever you come from, whatever country you live in, enjoy your Halloween and share a thought for all the souls

 

References

History:  http://www.history.com/topics/halloween [31.10.2014]

Live Science: http://www.livescience.com/16677-halloween-superstitions-traditions.html

by Andreia Nuno

Graduate from the New University (Portugal), Degree in Modern Languages, Literature and Cultures, English and Portuguese Studies (PT, EN), Master in Learning and Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts (EN, FR)

Terminology trainee at the Terminology Coordination of the European Parliament

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By Sabina Grixoni

Editor and Social Media Strategist

Communication Trainee at TermCoord

 

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