As part of our education ethos as a multicultural and multilingual School, we have taken advantage of such a special occasion as Halloween, to offer our students a better understanding of one of the oldest festivities in Europe. In fact, its name and its symbolic pumpkins and “trick or treat” come from European traditions, and not as most people believe from the United States.
The School celebrates the 30th of October with games, stories, songs, skeleton and witches costumes. Our corridors and classrooms become the perfect setting in which to stage the scariest day of the Year and kick-off the Half Term holiday. We can say goodbye to an intense month and a half of School and again rebuild our strengths to finish off the Term. Our Early Years students are amongst those who enjoy themselves most, on a different kind of day, full of fun and surprises.
From Celtic times to the present day
The word “Halloween” has its origins in Europe. It is the shortened Scottish language version of the English expression Allhallow-even, which was first used as such in the 16th Century. All Hallows' Even, or All Hallows' Eve, was the old English name for the “eve of All Saints Day”. The term Hallow-e'en» first appears in 1745.
Although it might first seem that the idea of a Halloween Party, as we know it today, has reached us from American culture and Hollywood films, the truth is that its origin can be found in the old continent, in the Samhain Celtic tradition. Over 2000 years ago, ancient Celtic peoples would celebrate the end of October with a great party to signal the end of harvest time. They used the Gaelic word Samhain which etymologically means “the end of Summer”.
At these celebrations, the ancient Celts would store provisions for the Winter and slaughter livestock. This was the end of Harvest time and the signaling of shorter days and longer nights. They also believed that on the night of Samhain (from the 31st of October to the 1st of November), the spirits of the dead would come back to visit the mortal world and they would light huge bonfires to keep away evil spirits. It was the night festival of the “Celtic New Year” which gave way to a new darker season.
When they conquered the British Isles, the Romans incorporated some Celtic celebrations and included them in their own Calendar. And so, the night of Samhain became a Roman festival dedicated to their own harvest goddess, Pomona. On the part of Catholicism, Pope Gregory III (731-741) consecrated a chapel in the Basilica of St Peter and fixed the anniversary of the 1st of November. His successor, Gregory IV extended this celebration of the 1st of November to the whole Church trying to provide a holy framework for what had been a well rooted pagan tradition. And like in many other important Christian celebrations, the eve of All Saints Day begins the night before.
It was then that the tradition moved on and crossed the Atlantic. In 1845, Ireland went through its worst period of social and economic crisis know as the Great Irish Famine. Many thousands of Irish people emigrated to other countries looking for work, especially to the United States. The Irish took with them many of their traditions, and that is how All Hallows Eve became Halloween. In North America the celebration then became much more colourful and certainly much more commercial.
Despite its dark beginnings, the most interesting thing about this celebration isn´t its gloomy character, but rather the mixture of pagan and religious cultures, the combination of different stories and legends. This now allows us to celebrate many ancient traditions, from peoples around the world, on a single day.